Remember when the Google SERP looked like this?
How boring was that? And did you see how much real estate those organic results took up, including unpaid shopping results? That’s no way to run a profitable search engine.
I hope the sarcasm here is obvious, especially for my dear SEO friends that have an increasingly hard time showing up above the fold.
As you’ve noticed, things have changed and now the SERP for the same search looks like this:
To use Google’s own words, they have been “Giving customers more reasons to click your ad”.
Most of these reasons come in the form of Ad Extensions. I’ll leave the prominent Shopping results for a later post in this series.
Ad Extensions come (and go) in a fast pace. Since 2010, Google has been releasing one extension after the other and there always seems to be at least one extension in beta at any given time.
How different each of these extensions may be, they all have one thing in common: they increase the CTR of your ads. How much depends on the extension, but it’s usually in the 5-30% range.
As I do not know an advertiser that isn’t interested in a higher CTR (for the same position & CPC), the advice here is simple: use any extension that makes sense for your business. And besides, Google wants you to use extensions so badly, they explicitly made it part of Ad Rank recently.
The best practice however, hasn’t changed due to this Ad Rank update: if you aren’t already using all extensions that are relevant for your business, you definitely should by now.
To help you get a quick feel for the current Ad Extensions, when to use them and what to expect of them, I’ve created the features comparison chart below.
You won’t find product or offer extensions, since these have been quietly retired. You also won’t find image extensions as only a very small minority of advertisers seems to be eligible to use these. Neither will you find Dynamic Search Ads, even though it can be found in the Ad extensions tab in AdWords, I consider it more of a campaign type that will be covered in the Testing part of this series.
However, you’ll find 8 other extensions (of which 1 is currently in beta) that will provide you with more than enough possibilities to stand out and increase your CTR.
You can also download a pdf version over here
The CTR improvement numbers above are the numbers that were published by Google when releasing that specific extension, based on their initial (but significant) findings with beta users.
The actual numbers will vary by country, industry, advertiser and it will especially be dependent on how many competitors are already using a specific extension. For example, if you’re the only advertiser with seller ratings for a specific search query, chances are this will greatly benefit your CTR.
On the other hand, if you’re the only one without seller ratings, you’ll still stand out, but probably not in a way that increases CTR.
As I mentioned in the introduction part of this series, implementing Ad Extensions can be considered a quick win. That’s why it’s pretty high up in the order of priorities in this audit series: it doesn’t take a lot of time to add, but the benefits will come immediately after adding the extensions.
Let’s dive a bit deeper for some recommendations for each extension.
The mother of all extensions and the one anyone can use. Well, anyone except single page websites. You can learn all about how to set them up on the sitelinks support page and make sure you follow sitelink extensions policies as well.
The best practices for sitelinks can be summed up as following:
- Make sure each of your search campaigns has at least 4 sitelinks.
You can always add more if you want to, especially if you want to compare how the ad performs when different sitelinks appear (just make sure the position stays the same for a fair comparison).
- Add descriptions to the sitelinks of your branded campaigns or add at least 6 sitelinks without descriptions to your branded campaigns.
You could add additional descriptions to all of your sitelinks, but so far they seem to appear only on branded queries. So if you want 4 sitelinks with descriptions on your branded queries, add descriptions to those sitelinks.
However, if you’d rather have 6 sitelinks without descriptions instead, well then add 6 sitelinks without descriptions.
Either way, there’s no need to spend a lot of time adding sitelink descriptions in non-branded campaigns.
- Create ad group level sitelinks for ambiguous and/or high volume ad groups.
All paid search practitioners rejoiced when it became possible to add sitelinks on the ad group level with enhanced campaigns. However, it would be pretty time consuming to create a unique set of sitelinks for each of your ad groups.
So the best course of action is to create ad group level sitelinks when the campaign level sitelinks aren’t optimal, given the keywords in the ad group. Especially in ad groups with:
- Many impressions in the top positions.
- Ambiguous queries, so you can narrow down the user’s intent. Read all about those (including an interesting case study) in Should You Create Ad Group Sitelinks in Enhanced Campaigns? by Brad Geddes. The good news is that by now, AdWords Editor fully supports ad group sitelinks (version 10.2 and higher).
- Don’t worry too much about individual sitelink performance
- Whenever you analyze the data in the Sitelinks Extensions view under the Ad extensions tab, you should realize that you’re looking at the performance of the whole ad unit whenever that particular sitelink appeared, not at the individual sitelink performance.
- If you want to be shocked and see that, click the Segment drop-down menu and select ‘This Extension vs. Other’. You’ll see that very few users actually click on the individual sitelinks. What I usually see is a CTR of less than 0.10% per sitelink for non-branded campaigns and 1-2% for branded campaigns, but you should check your own numbers to be sure. Sam Owen at PPC Hero had similar findings in his Case Study: Do People Actually Click Sitelinks?
However, sitelinks significantly increase the CTR of the ad as a whole. So that’s how you should treat them: additional description lines that take up real estate and give you an opportunity to show additional options, features, benefits and USP’s. Even if most of the searchers won’t click on the sitelinks themselves, they will see them and they will impact the performance of the ad as a whole.
So the question is not so much: how many people click on this particular sitelink and what happens after that? But more: which combination of sitelinks generates the best performance for my ad as a whole?
If you value calls to your business, you should definitely add call extensions to your campaigns, especially if you’re also advertising on mobile devices and have a local business. As Google research shows “70% of mobile searchers use click to call”.
And in case you’ve missed it, since April 2013, you’re no longer allowed to use phone numbers in the ad text, so the only way to show your phone number is by using call extensions.
The call extensions support page will show you how to set them up and monitor their performance.
Just a couple of best practices to keep in mind:
- Consider a Google forwarding phone number, currently only available in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany. This way you can track phone calls as conversions when they last longer than a number of seconds of your choosing.
- The question remains if you’ll value such a ‘conversion’ just as much as any other conversion you’re tracking in your account. If you’re an e-commerce advertiser, that’s probably not the case. On the other hand, if you’re a lead-gen advertiser or a local business, phone calls may be your primary conversion. So, as is often case, it depends on your business goals whether you should choose a forwarding number or your own phone number.
- If phone calls are really important to your business, you should also consider a call tracking solution that tracks calls to phone numbers on your website, as mentioned in the Measurement part of this series.
- Also be aware of possible gaps in call tracking data, as discussed in Call Extensions: Beware the Data Gaps by John Lee.
- Schedule your call extensions, so you only show the phone number (or call button) when there’s someone there to answer the phone.
If you have (a) brick and mortar business location(s) you’d like (mobile) searchers to visit, you should add Location Extensions. Just like call extensions, location extensions are especially effective for local businesses.
The easiest way to do this, is to link your Google Places and AdWords. The exact set up depends on whether you’re using upgraded or legacy location extensions, you can see how both work on the location extensions support page. And of course, make sure you comply with the with the location extensions policy. Once you’ve added location extensions to all relevant campaigns, there’s not much to it except monitoring the performance.
Though, there’s an extra option you may want to consider, especially for mobile searchers: apply a bid adjustment when people are searching within a specified radius around your current location extensions. Here’s how to do that:
- Go to the Settings tab of the campaign you want to use such a bid adjustment.
- Click ‘Edit’ next to Locations
- Click ‘Advanced search’.
- Click on the Location groups tab.
- Select ‘Location extensions’ in the drop-down menu as location group type:
- Specify the radius around each location extension.
- Click the Add and Done buttons.
Now this radius has become a location for which you can apply a bid adjustment, under the Locations tab of your campaign settings:
Although you won’t find seller ratings as extension under the Ad extensions tab in the interface, it’s one of the most powerful extensions out there.
To get these coveted stars in your ad, you’ll need to meet a couple of requirements:
- Your business must have at least 30 unique reviews in the past 12 months and an average rating of at least 3.5 stars. These reviews should reflect customers’ overall experience with your business, not so much with particular products you sell.
- You can find a list of review websites Google uses as sources for these stars on the seller ratings support page. Besides, you can see which reviews Google has currently aggregated for any domain (yours or a competitor’s) by inserting the domain after this URL: https://www.google.com/shopping/seller?q= e.g. https://www.google.com/shopping/seller?q=amazon.com
- At least 10 of these reviews must be in the customer’s Google interface language. Seller ratings currently show on Google.com, Google.co.uk, Google.de, Google.fr and Google.nl.
Once you meet these criteria, seller ratings will automatically show up in your ads. Obviously, the more reviews you have (compared to other advertisers on the same SERP), the more effect this extension will have.
So if you want those stars in your ads, the best thing to do would be to open an account with one of the mentioned review websites and solicit reviews (through e-mail) from your customers after they’ve received your product / done business with you. I’d recommend reading How Ratings Extensions Gave a Boost to CTR for Shop Bedding for an interesting case study on how to do this.
You could also join Google Trusted Stores, as this is one of the services that powers seller ratings.
Just like seller ratings, social annotations are a trust signal that automatically appear in your ads when you meet certain requirements. These are:
- You have to have a Google+ page with a verified URL.
- The domain of your Google+ page URL has to match the domain of your ad’s URL.
- Your Google+ page needs to have recent, high-quality posts and a significant number of followers. At least 100 followers for most companies.
And just as with seller ratings: the social annotations will appear automatically in your ads once you meet these criteria and the more followers you have, the better.
If you have an iOS and/or Android app you want to promote on tablets and/or mobile devices, you can add links to your app in the app store (Google Play or the Apple App Store).
The cool thing is that Google will detect the searcher’s device, so it shows the Android link to Android users and the iOS link to iOS users.
Learn all about how to set them up on the app extension support page.
If you have a positive third-party review, award or ranking in English and are able to fit the quote and the source in a total of 67 characters (and of course, meet all requirements in the review extensions policy), then you could add this as a review extension. Individual customer reviews won’t be accepted, that’s what seller ratings are for.
Especially if you’re in an industry people are skeptical about (think: weight loss, quit smoking, hair loss treatments, etc.), this extension could boost your credibility and definitely be worth the trouble. But so far, Google seems pretty strict in which sites they accept reviews from.
All the necessary info on how to set these up can be found on the review extensions support page.
This extension is currently in beta, so no official support page here. However, you can read the following article where it was spotted: Google Testing New AdWords Site Search Extension.
We’ve been using it for a couple of clients and seen positive results, especially on branded and generic terms for e-commerce advertisers.
This is how the Form Extension works:
- It allows you to place a field and button in your search ads, in order to direct users to a landing page based on a URL parameter.
- You choose the text in the field, on the button and the URL parameter you want to use.
- When users fill in a keyword (or zip code) in the field and click the search button in your ad, what they’ve filled in will populate the parameter to create the landing page.
If you’re interested in this extension, ask your Google rep for more information.
I’m sure this post will need an update soon, so keep your eyes open for any new extensions that will be released.
In the meantime, if you have any recommendations or questions you want to share, please do so in the comments!
Ad Extensions: Your Audit Checklist
Do all your search campaigns have at least 4 sitelinks?
Do the sitelinks of your branded campaigns include descriptions or do these campaigns have at least 6 sitelinks?
If you value phone calls: have you added call extensions to your campaigns? Use a Google forwarding number if you want to count calls as conversions in your account.
In case you’ve added call extensions: have you scheduled these to match your operating hours?
If you have brick and mortar business locations you want (mobile) searchers to visit: have you added location extensions to your campaigns?
Do you encourage customers to write reviews on reputable sources (as defined by Google) in order to obtain seller ratings?
Do you have a verified Google+ page with more than 100 followers in order to obtain social annotations?
If you have an iOS and/or Android app you want to promote: have you added app extensions to your campaigns?
If you have third-party reviews, awards or rankings in English that meet Google’s requirements: have you added these as review extensions?
In case your website supports a search parameter to be dynamically populated: have you asked your Google rep to join the form extensions beta?
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