Is Google Showing Fewer Ads Per Search?

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Google’s Q1 2015 earning report showed that paid clicks on Google websites were up 25% year-over-year, while average cost-per-click (CPC) on Google websites was down 13%. Unfortunately, these data points tell us almost nothing about the state of Google paid search.

On the company’s earnings call, outgoing Google CFO Patrick Pichette revealed for the first time that, were it not for YouTube TrueView ads, Google “sites clicks would be lower but still positive, and CPCs would be healthy and growing year over year.”

This story fits much better with the paid search trends that a number of industry analysts, including myself, have been seeing — and it’s nice to finally have some clarity on why Google has been reporting hefty CPC declines when so many industry data sources have been showing the opposite for Google paid search.

The shift to mobile as an explanation for declining CPCs was a red herring in recent years, and foreign exchange rate effects could only explain so much, but now we know that YouTube ads are big enough to drop the officially reported growth rate of Google sites CPCs by at least 13 percentage points.

Looking At The Third-Party Data

There are plenty of companies that release reports with data on the paid search industry, and while each of these reports may be subject to its own flaws and biases, taken together, they can shed light on the underlying trends that are affecting all of our search programs.

The data for Q1 2015 has been more consistent than usual on one key point: Google paid search click growth was weak even as click-through rate (CTR) rose. iProspect reported that Google clicks were down 11% Y/Y as impressions declined 35%. IgnitionOne showed clicks up 4% across all search engines, but with impressions down 20% and CPC up 21% (23% for Google). The Adobe Digital Index shows Google spend down 1%, even as CPC rose 6%, suggesting a decline in clicks of nearly 5%, despite CTR rising 18%.

In the latest quarterly report from my company, Merkle RKG, we show Google click growth at 0.2% Y/Y in Q1 as CPCs rose 13%. Impressions were falling 18% Y/Y by the end of the quarter. While factors like the default search provider change for Firefox, slowing tablet growth, and the maturation of the PLA market contributed to slowing overall growth, they do not explain it fully.

Maybe all of these reports are “wrong,” and there is some reason our data isn’t a good reflection of the true underlying trends in Google paid search; but after digging into this question in recent weeks, I’m convinced that there was a significant change in the AdWords market that began to take hold in mid-2014.

The bottom line is that Google may actually just be showing fewer ads, even when accounting for the shift from text ads to Product Listing Ads (PLAs) and from desktop to mobile. This notion runs counter to the popular narrative that the Google SERP has become increasingly overrun with ads, but a number of data trends are pointing in this direction.

Google’s incentive for such a change would be to drive a higher percentage of ad clicks to the ads at the top of the page, which yield them higher CPCs. Showing fewer ads wouldn’t be that different from what they’ve done over the years with the numerous ad extensions that are available and preferentially served for top ads.

Google.com Impression Growth Reverses Course

Looking into AdWords impression trends, my colleague and fellow Search Engine Land columnist Andy Taylor and I found that Google.com non-brand text ad impression growth in June 2014 was 19% Y/Y for the median AdWords program managed by our company.

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The next month, growth fell sharply to 7%, and by October 2014, impressions were declining by 12% Y/Y. By March 2015, impressions were declining by 18% Y/Y.

We looked specifically at Google.com results to take search partners out of the equation. Other industry sources have pointed to declining search partner impressions as a reason for overall Google declines, and I originally believed this was the most likely cause for the declines we were seeing.

Notably, eBay moved its mobile search ads from Google to Bing in mid-2014; this had an appreciable impact on overall AdWords search impressions, but the impact to clicks was minor.

We also wanted to isolate desktop results, because factors specific to our data set led to above-average growth for mobile traffic in Q3 2014. We do not believe that desktop traffic was impacted at the same time by similar factors.

Importantly, while traffic has been shifting to both mobile devices and PLAs over time, the timing and severity of the deceleration in desktop text ad impression growth does not match up well to what has been a steadier and slower shift to those segments.

Similarly, another consideration here is Google making close variant matching mandatory back in late September 2014. This could have led to increased competition for any given query and driven impressions for our programs lower. We do see impression growth drop sharply in October 2014, but the timing of changes in other data points, and their directional movement, does not fit this picture well.

First Page Minimum Bids Have Risen Sharply, And Average Position Is Higher Up The Page

As Google impression growth stalled and ultimately fell into decline, we saw a concurrent rise in average Google first page minimum bids.

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Using March 2013 as a baseline, we see first page minimums for non-brand text ads roughly double by July 2014 after being stable if not down slightly into early 2014.

First page minimums increased further as we entered the holiday shopping season, but they have remained greatly elevated into early 2015. We see similar trends for ads across all Quality Score levels with significant traffic.

We would expect to see this type of trend if Google began showing fewer ads per result, competition increased significantly, Google began showing fewer ads for less competitive queries, or Google simply raised minimum bids directly.

It’s difficult to rule out any combination of these factors, but average position trends can point us to more likely scenarios.

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In the last year, our average position for a non-brand Google text ad has moved up the page by about half of one position for the median program. Again we see a major shift occur in the second half of 2014 following stable results in the earlier part of that year.

Were increased competition a major factor in driving down impressions and pushing up first page minimum bids, this result seems unlikely.

Will We Ever Know For Sure?

Short of Google itself weighing in to explain the paid search impression decline and weakening click growth that so many of us are seeing, we’ll have to rely upon more circumstantial evidence to figure out the extent to which forces beyond our control are shaping the paid search market. Unfortunately, on the Google earnings call, Patrick Pichette declined to elaborate when questioned about search trends specifically.

This isn’t just idle curiosity, though. If there is external pressure pushing up CPCs and driving down impression and click growth, but advertisers are not aware of what is really going on, they may be prompted to take action in ways that are not helpful — or even harmful — to their search programs.

While no two search programs are alike and each is impacted by a unique combination of factors, having a decently accurate sense of larger industry trends can provide much-needed perspective and context to those individual experiences. At least, I’d like to think so.

I’m curious what the readers of this site think about the data I’ve presented here. Does our take sound off base?

The post Is Google Showing Fewer Ads Per Search? appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Source: SEland

Google AdSense Dropping Existing Payment Transaction History Report On June 30th

Google AdSense logoSunny K. Ujjawal received an email from Google that they will be shutting down and sunsetting the existing payment transaction history report by June 30, 2015. It will be replaced by a new report but all history will be deleted and any balance information will come over as a “Service Adjustment” line item.

That means, you won’t be able to see your past earnings payout history here, but Google is giving you a way to download the data.

Sunny posted a picture of the email on Google+:

Google added more details about this change over here:

Due to an upgrade to our payments system, we’ll be retiring the “Previous payments” page from AdSense. As of June 30, 2015, your previous payments data prior to the date that you migrated to the new payments system, will no longer be available. We recommend that you download your data and save a copy in case you need it in the future, e.g., for tax purposes.

Here is how to export your data:

  • Sign in to your AdSense account.
  • Click the gear icon and select Payments.
  • Scroll down to the “Previous payments” section at the bottom of the page.
  • Click See your previous payments.
  • In the “Finalized earnings and payments” section, click Export to CSV.
  • If a download prompt appears, follow the instructions in the dialog, and click Save. Otherwise your data is automatically downloaded as a CSV file.

I wonder if it is a way to hide the decline in earnings.

Forum discussion at Google+.


Source: SEroundTable

Google Search Results Missing Title Tags In Snippets

title tagMikula Beutl spotted either a weird Google UI test or a bug where Google was hiding the title tag from the search result snippets. Those blue clickable links in the search results, gone, missing.

I personally was not able to replicate but Mikula shared a picture on Twitter.

Here is his picture:

Google Search Results Without Title Tags

Here is what I see:

It can either be a Google test or a bug with Google or a temporary crawl issue with the web site.

Forum discussion at Twitter.


Source: SEroundTable

Google Tests Colored Dots Instead Of Colored Line Breaks

Google is constantly testing different user interfaces, and as I covered yesterday at Search Engine Land based on a tip from Abramov in Almaty City, Kazakhstan – Google is testing a new mobile UI.

The new user interface drops the colored line breaks that Google tested and took live, with four Googley colored dots at the bottom right corner of the search result snippet.

Here is a picture:

Google Mobile Colored Dots

Here is the line breaks version:

I kind of like this new more simplicity look over the line breaks.

Clicking the the blue dots does not do anything special. I guess it is just a stylistic thing.

Do you like the line breaks or the dots?

Forum discussion at Twitter.


Source: SEroundTable

Google Earnings Show Decline In AdSense Publisher Earnings

Google AdSense logoThe one complaint you will always see in a forum filled with Google AdSense publishers is that it is harder and harder to make good money from the AdSense publisher program.

Every time Google releases earnings some publisher points out the aspects of the earnings release that relates to publishers. This time it is no different, a WebmasterWorld thread.

Google just announced its first quarter 2015 numbers. Compared to the first quarter in 2014:

  • Total advertising revenue increased 11%
  • Google-owned site revenue increased 14%
  • Partner revenue increased 1%
  • Aggregate paid clicks increased 13%
  • Paid clicks on Google sites increased 25%
  • Paid clicks on partner sites decreased 12%
  • Aggregate cost per click decreased 7%
  • Cost per click on Google sites decreased 13%
  • Cost per click on partner sites increased 2%

Compared to the fourth quarter of 2014:

  • Total advertising revenue decreased 5%
  • Google-owned site revenue decreased 4%
  • Partner revenue decreased 8%
  • Aggregate paid clicks decreased 1%
  • Paid clicks on Google sites decreased 3%
  • Paid clicks on partner sites increased 4%
  • Aggregate cost per click decreased 5%
  • Cost per click on Google sites decreased 3%
  • Cost per click on partner sites decreased 11%

The numbers and trends don’t look that good for publishers.

Forum discussion at WebmasterWorld.


Source: SEroundTable

Google Mobile People Also Search For Feature

Back in 2012, Google added a new search feature named People also search for, which is kind of related search but powered by Google’s Knowledge Graph.

It is not all that common to see these come up, it is query dependent.

But @PigzillaSEO posted a screen shot on Twitter showing this feature in the mobile results. I can’t replicate it, so I figured, even thought it is a few years old, I’d document the mobile UI we see today for this feature named people also search for.

Google Mobile People Also Search For Feature

Forum discussion at Twitter.


Source: SEroundTable

Daily Search Forum Recap: April 29, 2015

Here is a recap of what happened in the search forums today, through the eyes of the Search Engine Roundtable and other search forums on the web.

Search Engine Roundtable Stories:

Other Great Search Forum Threads:


Source: SEroundTable

6 Search Tips For Travel Advertising Success

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After a brutal winter for much of the country, it’s finally starting to feel like springtime. Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping, and consumers’ thoughts are invariably turning to the promise of summer fun and adventure. For many, this means travel.

2015: A Stellar Year For Leisure Travel

Factoring in a slew of positive, travel-related economic indicators like low unemployment rates, gas prices lower than they’ve been in years, and a strong U.S. dollar, 2015 is shaping up to be a big one for families taking summer vacations.

In fact, according to Choice Hotels International, Americans plan to spend eight percent more on leisure travel this year and five percent more per trip than last year.

For digital marketers, all of this translates into an explosion of digital searches for travel. In fact, according to eMarketer, U.S. digital travel sales will top $153 billion — up almost six percent from 2014. Mobile travels sales will top $36 billion.

These are big numbers, and planning your digital search strategy is essential in order to capture the biggest share of this seasonal spend. Here are six essential tips for search marketers, sure to make your seasonal travel campaigns the best they can be:

1. Plan Campaigns & Allocate Budget For Two Seasonal Peaks: Summer & Winter

Travel-related searches peak at two key times each year: for summer and winter travel. The summer search peak extends from June through August and the winter search peak from December through January.

Plan accordingly, and have both campaigns and budgets ready to connect with leisure travelers when they are planning, researching and booking both their summer and winter vacations.

Bing Ads Travel Insights 1

2. Online Travel Aggregators: Take Advantage Of High CTRs

People often conduct searches for their preferred online travel aggregator (OTA) sites such as Expedia, Priceline, Hotels.com, etc. The click-through rate (CTR) for all OTA-related searches is between 11 and 16 percent. For smartphone searches, the CTR is even higher — between 14 and 19 percent.

These high CTRs demonstrate that consumers are eager to click on search ads when they are looking for an OTA. With high CTR and low cost-per-click (CPC), these advertisers need to consider bidding on their own brand terms in order to prevent losing mindshare and conversions to competitors bidding on those terms.

Bing Ads Travel Insights 2

Bing Ads research has shown that bidding on one’s own brand terms results in higher click yield, along with a decrease in the click yield for competitor ads. In other words, brand terms get more clicks and keep competitors at bay.

This research also found that bidding on the most prominent ad spot (“main line” or ML1) is particularly important for smaller advertisers.

3. Lodging: Target Last-Minute Bookers

Not surprisingly, many travelers book their plans at the very last minute. In fact, more than half the searches on hotel mobile websites take place within a week of a traveler’s booking window.

To address this short window of opportunity, lodging advertisers’ campaigns and ad copy need to address and target these time-sensitive consumers.

4. Make The Most Of Cross-Device Campaigns

Search engines have become a traveler’s best friend. According to an eMarketer report from November 2014, Business Travel 2.0: Millennial Behaviors Shift Travel Marketing Dollars, six in 10 leisure travelers use search engines to plan their trips — and they plan, research and book travel across multiple devices.

It’s critical that advertisers meet travel searchers wherever they are, whether that’s on a PC at work, a tablet at home, or a smartphone on the road. Campaigns and ad copy should be tailored for PC/tablets and smartphones to engage consumers as they research destinations and local attractions on any device, and at any time of day.

5. Get Ready For The “Mobile Majority”

The Yahoo Bing Network saw a 43 percent year-over-year increase in the number of smartphone searches related to Travel, and we expect that number to keep growing.

With 58 percent of travel spending occurring during a trip, it’s important for local advertisers to have mobile ads ready to capture nearby travelers. Adding Location and Call Extensions will drive relevant traffic to your mobile (or mobile-friendly) website, storefront, or reservation line, allowing consumers to easily contact you to learn more or make a reservation.

Advertisers with mobile apps can also add App Extensions to encourage mobile travelers to install their apps. By optimizing mobile campaigns, advertisers can target relevant audiences and better connect with leisure travelers.

6. Inspire Travelers To Stay Longer

Americans often search for longer vacations than they actually book, so it makes sense that the average American carried over 3.3 paid vacation days from 2014 to 2015. That’s $56.6 billion worth of paid vacation days!

How do you entice them to use those days, and stay just a bit longer? Advertisers can use ad copy and length-based special offers to inspire travelers to stay longer and use an extra paid vacation day or two.

Bing Ads Travel 3

With 2015 poised to be the best one in years for the travel industry, the upside for travel marketers is clear. Understand your customers, apply some proven insights and with a little luck (and good weather), you, too, can have the “best summer ever.”

The post 6 Search Tips For Travel Advertising Success appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Source: SEland

3 AdWords Reports That Every Search Marketer Needs To Stay Competitive

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When our search team sat down to brainstorm topics for this article, our primary objective was to identify strategies, tools and reports that are largely underutilized. These resources come from our experience bringing on new clients that have either been managing search marketing in-house or through another agency, and seeing what they’ve done in the past.

Our secondary objective was to identify recommendations that can help both paid and organic search marketers. While we’ll cover reports in AdWords, many important learnings can be applied to organic search as well.

This article breaks out key takeaways from each report, defined as Quick Wins and Breaking Assumptions. Each report could have easily been outlined in its own article, but we wanted to provide ways to quickly benefit from them and help marketers best identify obstacles and opportunities in search.

1. Paid & Organic Report

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Many marketers find themselves asking the same question: Should I be bidding on keywords I already rank for organically? Often the answer is yes, but it varies based on competition and keyword data. Google’s paid & organic report can help identify the keyword opportunities your brand should capitalize on to increase visibility and search authority.

We’re consistently surprised at how underutilized the paid & organic report is in AdWords. Perhaps it’s the integration required by Google to sync Google Webmaster Tools with AdWords for organic search data to be populated alongside paid. For companies or individuals managing paid and organic search separately, this integration isn’t always a natural one. Rarely do SEO teams spend time in the actual AdWords interface — and it’s not often that paid search teams spend time in Google Webmaster Tools.

Despite these challenges, we highly recommend search marketers establish this integration quickly to benefit from all of its comprehensive data.

The paid & organic report lists all of the keywords that are receiving impressions and clicks in Google. The key here is being able to assess client interaction (Impressions + CTR) with your listings when search ads are present, when organic listings are present, and when the two channels are combined.

Quick Wins

One of the most immediate insights you can take from this report are the keywords that achieve the best performance (CTR in this report) from both paid and organic search. As a paid search marketer, you’ll be able to identify all the long-tail queries for which organic is earning great performance and enhance your bid strategies accordingly.

For organic search marketers, you’ll gain insight to the terms that contain the highest relevance to searchers, not just those with the most search volume. This will allow you to segment your keyword usage in a more refined manner.

How It Breaks Assumptions

One question we still hear regularly from clients is whether or not we should be paying for clicks (branded and non-branded) when their website is already ranking in the top position.

Previously, we would have needed to rely on isolated studies that prove how paid and organic actually work together to deliver an incremental lift in performance. But with the paid and organic report from Google, you can use your own or your client’s data to show them why bidding on top ranking organic keywords makes sense.

To date, we haven’t found an account that doesn’t at least contain some top ranking keywords that we’ve proven should also be bid on with PPC.

2. Auction Insights Report

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At its core, the auction insights report tells Google AdWords advertisers what the competitive landscape looks like through impression share, average position, overlap and outranking share. This data is available for both search and shopping campaigns with some slight differences between the two.

Auction insight reports can also aid analysts in recommending SOV (share of voice) budget increases. Let’s say that we’ve shared a monthly auction insight report with a client and have found the following to be true:

During the holiday season, the client’s ad coverage starts to slip due to increased competition from direct competitors. Specifically, their position historically drops to 3.4 from 2.9 during the months of November and December.

We would then use that information to explain to the client what additional budget we would need during those months in order to stay competitive. If our drop represents a ~17% reduction in position, and our Max. CPC during that time was set to $3.10, we would use the 17% loss in position to recommend a correlating increase in ad spend.

By using the formula below we would recommend a new Max CPC of $3.63, from $3.10, and a new monthly budget of $910, from $750.

Old Max. CPC $3.10 * .17 = $.53

New Max. CPC = $3.10 + .$53 = $3.63

New Ad Spend Budget Proposal = Projected Impressions (10,000) * Avg. CTR (2.5%) * New Max. CPC ($3.63) = $907.5

Now that you have monthly auction insights to back up your recommendations, the increase in required funds and overall objective should hopefully be crystal clear to the client.

Feel free to get even more granular with your reports by diving into ad group level competitive comparisons, as some competitors may not reveal themselves until the specific keyword grouping is examined on its own.

Quick Wins

Since AdWords operates as an auction with competition driving up cost, it’s logical that this report includes competitive insight that can benefit search marketers.

We recommend pulling this report to identify the competitors that are beating you for rank and search share. Dig into the competition by reviewing data at a campaign level — here, impression share shows you for which campaigns you perform the strongest.

One of the best ways to gain some immediate traction with this report is by reviewing your branded impression share. Is it at the level it should be? This report is a great way to see if you do, in fact, have your brand bidding thoroughly covered, and whether or not action is needed.

How It Breaks Assumptions

Building off the aforementioned quick wins, competitive data drives many of the assumptions that can hold search marketers back in performance. While you may know who you’re competing with in a broad sense, rarely are you able to identify nearly all competitors across all your ad groups, campaigns and keywords.

By giving insight into the competitive landscape at a much greater scale, search marketers can use the auction insights report to dig into many more competitors and uncover how they’re acquiring customers through paid and organic search tactics.

Many brands have trouble competing with the largest spenders in paid search; likewise, even brands with big budgets have trouble competing across of the all keywords they want to go after. Combine this with seasonal trends that have dictated marketing budgets for years, and you’re left with limited time periods and keywords that can be bid on to acquire customers.

The auction insights report helps search marketers break this mindset — through it, you’re able to make strategic decisions with keywords that should quantifiably capture more of your budget.

Additionally, you can monitor competitor’s behavior around seasonal periods. What you’ll likely find is that competitors manage their budget in a similar fashion, with a larger share being reserved for specific seasonal periods.

While perhaps fewer prospects are looking for your products and services outside of defined “seasons,” you may also find that fewer competitors are bidding for this smaller prospect pool, meaning you can achieve a much better cost per acquisition.

3. Search Query Report: Broad Match

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While the search query report is normally used for generating negative keyword lists, it can also be used for generating new ad groups and broad match modifiers. This report can help your brand stay competitive by identifying keywords with similar and competitor-focused content that may require a unique campaign with personalized content to convert leads.

When not managed well, broad match has the ability to create exorbitant costs with paid search campaigns. However, we’ve found that when closely monitored and controlled (negative keywords are critical), broad match can be one of the most useful ways to continuously identify relevant keywords and expand an account.

Quick Wins

There are more keyword quick wins available through broad match reports than we can list, so we’ve isolated one of our favorites; keyword modifiers.

Modifiers are the supporting keywords that provide specificity to a product or service and generally reveal some degree of intent. Broad match reports can indicate all of the different ways that modifiers can be connected with your target keywords and which in particular yield conversions.

Keyword modifiers can be colors, sizes, or materials of different products. They can also be qualifiers like best, top rated or inexpensive. One of the things we love about search modifiers is that they give us continual insight into how prospects search for our clients’ products and services and the criteria that is most important to them.

How It Breaks Assumptions

Keyword research tools can provide search marketers with all the search intent data that they need, but assumptions still largely drive the data that’s input to generate recommendations.

Whether we realize it or not, these assumptions limit our capacity to think beyond our own understanding of how people may search for what they want or need.

Fortunately, broad match can act as a perpetual keyword exercise, with conversion data attached, aiding paid and organic search marketers in their all-important strategic decision making.

The post 3 AdWords Reports That Every Search Marketer Needs To Stay Competitive appeared first on Search Engine Land.

Source: SEland