Google’s made a change… should you?
It may have escaped many people’s notice, but Google search results have changed quite radically of late. The sidebar adverts that used to appear immediately to the right of listings have vanished – a rare example of a successful company reducing the amount of advertising it displays.
Of course, Google’s deletion of sidebar ads is not a self-sacrificing gesture aimed at improving the search experience of average internet users. In part, it’s intended to streamline the desktop and mobile interfaces to create a harmonious appearance. With the majority of global web searches now taking place through mobile devices rather than computers, it was becoming increasingly difficult to give advertisers the prominence they demanded from their sidebar adverts. Even though desktop searches are continuing to show modest growth, the skyrocketing demand for Google results from mobile devices has tilted the company’s focus towards smaller display screens.
However, another reason for removing the sidebar ads was to introduce product placement on compatible web browsers set to a sufficiently large resolution. Not the usual Audi-in-a-movie type of product placement, but a list of products that may appeal to people using particular search terms. This is effectively a condensed preview of Google’s Shopping results page, aimed at expediting consumers towards a purchase. There have even been sightings of an expandable ad block, testing 16 product listing adverts (or PLAs) with a discreet enlarge/reduce button at the bottom-right hand corner.
Each advert will display a product directly related to the search term together with a thumbnail photo above the item’s name, its price and the retailer. Clicking on any part of this advert will forward you to the retailer’s website, informing both them and Google of the click-through’s origin. At present, the ads only appear in response to ‘highly commercial’ queries, which Google defines as showing intent to purchase. Unfortunately, there is little consistency surrounding this at the time of writing this article. Searching for a brand name can bring up products in the Shop on Google sidebar, whereas typing in a branded product and prefixing it with the word ‘buy’ can produce a text-only list of results.
Clearly, the algorithms that govern where ads appear need some refining. Of more importance to marketing agencies and retailers is the physical process of getting products listed, with PLAs achieving 90 per cent more click-throughs than conventional text ads. And inevitably, this comes down to paid product advertising through Google. Companies wishing to appear in these new ads will have to increase their cost per click (CPC) setting in Google AdWords. It’s also imperative to select keywords very carefully, since a vague or misleading product description will mean adverts are displayed to inappropriate audiences. If a new business is launched to buy and sell vintage band T-shirts, specifying ‘T-shirt’ as a keyword would be an expensive waste of advertising revenue.
Industry experts are currently unable to agree on whether Google’s changes will raise or lower CPC pricing, with arguments raging about the competing merits of picture ads above/beside/below search results and the respective impacts on click-through rates. Until more definitive answers emerge, product retailers should pay close attention to Google campaign updates before deciding how much revenue to invest in retail CPC campaigns.
For more advice on pleasing Google with your search engine optimisation strategy visit this blog post.