How will changes to the Google Ad Format effect SERP?

Oct. 28, 2010 | by Sam Fenton-Elstone

Google Ad formats

The last 12 months has been a busy time for the Ad Format team at Google HQ in Mountain View. Google has introduced a number of innovations to spruce up their paid listings making for a very different search engine results page (SERP). Up until this point there had been very little change to the format of the eleven sponsored links we see on our SERP. Lets take a look at some of these changes:


The most commonly implemented innovation or Ad Extension has been Site Links. Originally introduced in two line format in November 2009; this was extended to cover one-line site links in June of this year.

Google screenshot

Google screenshot

Two-line Sitelinks would only be eligible to show for “exceptionally high quality Ads – where one Ad provides the best answer”. This is measured by Google via an Ads CTR and essentially rendered this format available only to brand owners.

The one-line Sitelinks format’s requirements were less strict on this one allowing multiple Ads to display them. These would show in an auction where multiple Ads are clearly more relevant than the rest of the auction. Suddenly this meant it was now feasible to display site links against generic terms.

Feedback from Google suggests two-line site links improve CTR by over 30% and one-line site links by around 15%.

The widespread take up of this format would go some way in backing up these figures and as Tobit Michael highlighted back in March it can also have a significant impact on revenue.

Product Extensions

For a number of years now retailers have been submitting their product feeds to Google Merchant Centre for listing on Google Product Search. This free service has displayed the products on both the product search page and within the natural search results on the main site. Now Google has provided the ability to link this to your Adwords account.

Google screenshot

The products shown are linked to the search term via the product title and description in the feed. It is essential the feed quality is of the highest standard. This can prove difficult when linked to brand terms. What should the feed display?

In our experience of using the feature for clients we have seen an excellent impact on CTR. For one client the CTR increased from 0.68% without Product Extensions to 1.56% with product extensions.

Although the benefits of this are obvious, Google’s implementation of this is somewhat uninspired! Tracking the return to a specific keyword is difficult due to the restrictions of using third party tracking systems. Although there is a feed-side workaround, this can be complicated. For this reason, take up of this extension isn’t as widespread as you would imagine.

Location Extensions

Using online to drive offline. Excellent! Linking a Google Places feed to your Adwords account allows advertisers to display business locations as a plus-box within an Adwords Ad. This can be a great tool in driving footfall. In addition to the additional real estate it gives advertisers, it can also lead to an improved CTR. Here is a great example of local extensions benefiting online:

Google screenshot

When expanded it dominates the page and definitely catches the eye! This additional real estate has seen CTRs increase even though the Ad is promoting a channel other than the website. For one client we saw a 32% increase when Location Extensions were shown.  This format is also available on Mobile Ads, which can prove to be a very powerful feature.

What Next?

So what else do Google have in store? Well “Offer Ads” are currently in beta (this should work fantastically well on mobile devices), Video Ads are live in the US although it remains unclear whether these will be launched in Europe and Comparison Ads are currently active for “mortgages” and is likely to be expanded to other financial products.

Along with these new Ads we have seen a spruce up of the Adwords interface, bringing it much more inline with the look and feel of Google Analytics. The new Ad Extensions even get their own tab in the main management interface!

What next? Here are two of my predictions:

Social Sharing

Advertisers will be allowed to inlay social sharing methods within the copy of their Ads. Tools such as Facebooks “Like” button are the perfect way for consumers to tell their friends of a great deal they have discovered…

Google screenshot

Image Ads

Although currently in Image search only, this will be extended into the main SERPs. The ability to display such an Ad will be managed in a similar vein to Site Links rewarding those Ads that consumers already favour. The impact of this will increase CTR considerably and benefit big brand owners.

Google screenshot

So, have these innovations improved the experience for consumers, or simply just increased traffic through paid search Ads at the expense of the natural listings?

I think that a richer experience for the consumer is great. Certain products really do come to life with an image or a video. As mobile internet consumption increases, location and offer based extensions will come into their own. It will be interesting to see what else is around the corner and how Google’s competitors react?

Do you have an Ad Format/s you would like to see?

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    Comments (5)

    • Chris Eden

      Great post Sam, really useful summary of all the recent updates.

      Say hi to all the iC crew!

      ChrisNov 12, 2010 02:23 am

    • Joe

      I think it could work very well for the charity sector too, to be honest. Not just for fundriasing but for campaigniong work too. I would also like to see integration of technology such as differencis and Struq/Criteo on SERPS as well, but think this might not be up Google's street.Oct 28, 2010 01:56 pm

    • Sam Fenton-Elstone

      @ Adam, I think mobile opens up a world of new extensions. Offer extensions suit mobile much better than desktop. The existing desktop beta requires you to print the offer but displaying it on your mobile is much more user friendly. This could pose some headaches for the voucher apps that have emerged recently.

      @ Joe, whether we see them in that format I don't know. However there is no doubt that some products and brands will benefit immensely from a richer advertising experience. This would could particularly well for the automotive industry...Oct 28, 2010 01:33 pm

    • Joe

      Good Post. Nice to be kept in the loop of all the latest developments in PPC in a clear, succcinct manner. Keep it up! Image Ads in the main SERPS, though? Never thought I'd see the day....Oct 28, 2010 10:26 am

    • Adam Boulton

      Nice post Sam,

      Google also recently announced new hyper local ads for mobile

      And Google Boost for local businesses

      I like to see these ads used to provide vouchers codes and special offers for example if I searched for restaurants in Brighton on my phone I'd like to see a hyper local ad with a 2 4 1 offer :)
      Oct 28, 2010 10:22 am

    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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