My Favorite SMX 2020 Sessions

Max Trotter, SMB Client Partner

Search Marketing Expo has become one of the leading conferences for search marketing professionals. So naturally, I was excited to attend SMX virtual this year. With more than 45 sessions on the agenda, there was plenty to learn about what the future of search looks like. Below are the top takeaways that I wanted to share.

An Epic Ads Automation Debate: RSAs vs. ETAs

Presented by: Fred Vallaeys, Co-Founder and CEO of Optmyzr, and Brad Geddes, Co-Founder Adalysis

My favorite talk of the conference came right away with Optmyzr’s Fred Vallaeys and Adalysis’ Brad Geddes, debating whether Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) or Expanded Text Ads (ETAs) reign supreme.

Here are the arguments for both:

Responsive Search Ads

  • On Average, RSAs outperform ETAs. Although RSAs and ETAs are equally likely to be the best format, RSAs outperformed by a larger margin.
  • For larger advertisers, the results are mixed. It could be the fact that larger accounts are already well optimized and RSAs offer a smaller boost. Large advertisers rely heavily on their brand in ad text and don’t need the thousands of potential variations that RSAs could generate to boost performance.

Expanded Text Ads

  • Google usually shows RSAs the most, regardless of data. Even if ETAs are performing significantly better, Google tends to still prefer RSAs.
  • Ad strength doesn’t seem to affect ad serving. It doesn’t seem to matter if the RSA is high-quality or not; Google still tends to serve them more than ETAs.
  • RSAs take time to optimize. But some clients don’t have that time.

While there was no “winner” in the debate, both Fred Vallaeys and Brad Geddes made excellent points about RSAs and ETAs. Both ad types have a  place in your account, and for the time being, it looks like we’ll have to test them and draw our own conclusions.

Small Budget Tactics That Pack a Serious Punch

Presented by: Amalia Fowler, Director of Marketing Services at Snaptech Marketing

Working with small businesses my entire career, this talk naturally made this list. Using the five A’s of small budget marketing (based on the five D’s of dodgeball), Speaker Amalia Fowler laid the groundwork for managing and optimizing low budget accounts.

The Five A’s include:

  • Accept. Small budgets mean you can’t do as much as you want. Focus on working within your limits and making small optimizations within your restraints. Planning your account structure carefully sets you up for maximum success.
  • Adjust. Getting as granular as possible with locations, audiences, etc., will help reduce waste and maximize returns where you know they exist.
  • Analyze. Analyze your data and make small adjustments quickly, especially excluding anything that doesn’t lead to returns.
  • Adapt, and Accept (again). Google is always changing and will continually throw wrenches into your plans. Learning to adapt and accept the changing industry is required for continued success.

Emerging Channels for Digital Commerce

Presented by: Elizabeth Marsten, Senior Director, Strategic Marketplace Services, Tinuiti

Tinuiti’s Senior Director of Strategic Marketplace Services and Portent alum Elizabeth Marsten showed us the future of e-commerce and the emerging players in the space. These businesses include:

Walmart Media Group

  • Best for brands that are in store, sellers that can be price/shipping competitive. Dependent on product category.
  • Problems include: retail relationships can complicate return goals, 1st price bid auction, whitelisted keywords.

Target Roundel

  • Best for brands that are in store, Target Plus sellers, high-competitor categories, and new to market brands.
  • Problems include: You could end up paying for clicks that would’ve been organic & the array of options can be paralyzing.

Instacart Advertising

  • Best for brands in multiple retailers or 100+ throughout the US. Retailers must also list these items with Instacart.
  • Problems include: overlap with other channels, can’t see breakdown by retailer, huge hiring spree of shoppers, low on out-of-the-box advertising features.

Kroger Advertising

  • Best for in-store brands wanting to grow or new/emerging brands.
  • Problems include: currently in year two of a three-year plan, launching Mirakl marketplace now to expand assortment.


  • Best for in-store brands that need to amplify in their category (emerging or highly competitive) and smaller management teams that need to expand.
  • Problems include: confusion on the Retail Media offering vs. legacy/other Criteo offerings amongst search marketers.

Out of the talks I attended, this one was the most eye-opening. I was unaware that this many players had entered the e-commerce advertising industry at all, but Marsten’s breakdown showed that there’s an advertising space for everyone, and the digital marketing world is always expanding.

That’s a Wrap!

SMX 2020 provided an awesome opportunity to hear from some of the best in search marketing. I’m looking forward to sharing the actionable tactics and takeaways I learned to help clients drive more traffic and exceed their business goals!

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