This post was written by Boost CTR CEO David Greenbaum and originally appeared in Search Engine Journal.
There’s a lot going on over on the AdWords product development team. Keywords are dying, new AdWords features are rolling out all the time, campaigns are being experimented with, and AdWords is running small business campaigns and letting you automate your campaigns. Amidst all the innovation and commotion they haven’t forgotten about ad text.
We recently wrote about things you can test with your ad text display URL and before you turned around AdWords had made a controversial decision about display URLs that rendered some of that testing advice obsolete (it’s a challenging time to be giving specific advice about paid search best practices). AdWords has made a series of updates to the way they display ad text that individually can seem like minor tweaks, but when taken in aggregate can tell a different story. In this post we’ll try to walk through some of the recent changes to AdWords ad text and how they affect your campaigns (complete with how you should react to the tweaks).
Five Recent Changes to AdWords Ads
So what are all these changes to your AdWords ads? They range from updates to tools available through AdWords to differences in how you display your ads. Let’s walk through the new changes.
1. Display URLs Are Displayed Differently
This is a change that has raised a lot of questions from the advertiser community and speculation on why AdWords changed its display URL policy – but basically the change means that your domain will be displayed in all lower-case letters. You can still use capitalization in subfolders, but your domain will be normalized. As Google explains it:
For example, if your display URL is Subdomain.Example.com/Subdirectory, it will appear as subdomain.example.com/Subdirectory.
Given the change there are a few good steps to take here:
- Audit Your Top Performing Ads – Take a look at the ads that drive the most volume in your accounts (focus on cost and on conversions). Does this change impact those ads? If so make checking in on them a part of your regular maintenance. Small changes can have big impacts, and you might find yourself giving away a few percentage points (and in turn actual business) to these normalized URLs.
- Test New Things – Have you been using Keyword.Example.com a lot as your display URL? Now is a good time to test moving the keyword to a subfolder – again mainly on higher volume and top performing ads.
- Consider Leveraging the Subdirectory More – You can still use capitalization in the subdirectory – if there is a term you really want to highlight in the display URL consider doing it here. If you really want your brand to pop in your URL and you notice the new normalized URLs are adversely impacting CTR, consider repeating your brand in the subdirectory with the more eye-catching punctuation or call attention to the strength of your brand with something like this: example.com/Official-Site
2. Longer AdWords Ad Titles
Another major change recently was the extension of certain AdWords ads. The idea here is that in certain instances for ads above the organic search results, the AdWords system will pull the first description up into the ad’s headline.
First off it’s worth considering this change and the rapid pace at which Google is tweaking SERPs. Having more real estate at the top of the search results will generally mean better click-through rates (as per Google’s tests) and to get them you’ll need to have a description that makes sense, is properly punctuated, and can be used in concert with your headline. Since it’s unlikely this is the last of Google’s tinkering with the way that ads are displayed I think it makes sense for advertisers to start to think about creating “stand-alone” description lines wherever possible. This change is a reminder that Google can take impactful liberties with your ad copy: if you have solid, consistent punctuation and try to create as many self-supporting pieces within your ad copy as makes sense you become less vulnerable to updates.
Also you’ll want to look at your highest volume ads and see what your average position is on the terms those ads are displayed against. You might have single keywords that drive significant business for you – in that case there is a reasonable chance you’re often getting SERP real estate that is “above the fold” – audit those ads and try to make them eligible for the extended headline (as small upticks in CTR for your top performing ad groups can have a huge impact on your bottom line).
- Google Announces Longer Ad Titles (Finally)
- What Extended AdWords Headlines Mean for You
- Google Changes Display of Top Position Ads
- Longer Google AdWords Ad Headlines are Official
3. New Ad Sitelinks Serving
Google also changed the way they serve sitelinks. This change means that AdWords will be applying an “optimize” algorithm similar to what they use to pick ad text winners to choose which sitelinks to display. This will be based on historical performance, and as with all things Google will likely primarily be focused around click-through rates.
There’s not much to do here beyond what Google recommends:
To make sure that you’re getting the most from Ad Sitelinks, check for the following:
- Make sure that you have more than four Sitelinks entered so that we have options to rotate and optimize.
- Include several shorter Sitelinks in your list, since our one-line Sitelinks format has a lower overall character limit than the two-line format.
- Continue to rank your Sitelinks in priority order. We’ll continue to use your rank order as a factor, in addition to historical performance, when determining which Sitelinks to show with your ad.
But again it’s worth noting that you should keep in mind as you craft your sitelinks that Google is the one who controls how they’re displayed – try to prepare them for any eventuality.
4. Location Extensions Are Integrated with Google Maps
Google has integrated location extensions within Google Maps. This means that if you have location extensions enabled you can have your location extension highlighted with a blue pin on the map (standing out from the standard listings, which are shown on the map in a sea of red pins).
If you haven’t already, make your way to the ad extensions tab in AdWords and make sure you are using all of the extensions that apply to your business, be they product, location, phone or otherwise: Google is offering you additional real estate in the SERPs in the hopes that you help divert some traffic from organic results: take it!
5. Ad Preview Tool Updates
AdWords recently updated their ad preview tool. The tool’s interface is now a bit cleaner and easier to use, and they’ve added some integrated data points around ad diagnostics (when your ad shows and why).
First off, understanding how to use the Google AdWords ad preview tool is important as it’s a very handy means of previewing ads, understanding why ads aren’t showing, and demonstrating to clients that just because they see competitor A showing up on their IP at 3pm on a Sunday doesn’t mean you aren’t bidding on a term you reported you were. It’s important to note here, however, that as with all things AdWords you should take the recommendations the tool gives you with a grain of salt. Google is making recommendations that will help you get more of your ads displayed on Google: make decisions that drive more customers and revenue and profits for your business, not theirs.
Conclusion: What’s the Underlying Theme Here?
At a high level the two core pieces of advice for evaluating and reacting to these new changes are:
- Proceed with Caution – Don’t trust that because Google rolled something out it’s beyond reproach. Higher click-through rates for everyone may not be higher click-through rates for you, and things that are enhancements for Google’s platform from Google’s perspective often aren’t positives for you, your account, and your business.
- Test. Test. Test. – One of the most powerful advantages PPC has over other channels is the immediacy and actionable nature of the data you’re able to collect: don’t waste the feature! When a new change comes, test against it to see how you can get the most out of every feature and tweak to the AdWords system.