Google’s ad formats – getting better, or worse?

Feb. 09, 2011 | by Rob Green

Two of the most recent changes to Google’s ad formats are making us ask questions about their value to users. Google built Adwords on the back of their goal to provide the highest quality, and most relevant ads to searchers – but recently, we are not sure about some of the new changes.

Lower Case Domain Names

On the premise that ads with the domain name written all in lower case generally have a better CTR, and to standardize the appearance of all ads, Google now force all display URLs to show in this way. We have always generally found the opposite, especially if your domain name has more than one word.

Look at the SERP below. I think it’s really hard to read that domain name – it took me a couple of tries to say it out loud. Surely that doesn’t help users? If it read something like I think it would be a lot easier.

Google SERP

Perhaps there is some benefit gained in the way the file extension is capitalised and highlighted. This could add relevance to ads and increased the importance of optimised display URLs.

Description 1 in the Title

The same ad in the example above has the 1st description line appended on to the title. This is a fairly big change to the standard ad format – and it’s easy to see how this might improve CTR. However, using the title and description 1 line as an extended title is the next logical step for someone writing an ad that is going to be in this format – and this is against Google’s own guidelines.

In addition to this, I don’t actually think it looks right in between the ads above and below it – almost like it isn’t a proper result. Like something straight out of the 90s! That is, of course, completely subjective (and I don’t think this is a very well written ad, even in standard format).

What do you think? The description in the title could just be a test that doesn’t last long, but the lower case domain name is here to stay. I think there has been a lot of great new ad formats (site links for example) and ad extensions (products, maps, reviews, etc) recently, but are all these changes really necessary?

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    Comments (4)

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    • Natalie Eldridge

      I agree with Emma that it would be good to have the option to test the new formats. Personally I like the extended headline format as it will allow for some interesting re-write opportunities, particularly for non-English language ads that often require additional characters to convey a global message that has been translated from English. As an Analyst I want to test it out for my clients, as I would with most new opportunities. However the current approach of rolling the new formats out across any ad that meets the pre-defined (and ever changing) criteria applies a level of uncertainty to our work which I am personally not entirely comfortable with.
      As Mike mentions, we are not as yet able to tell if and when our client’s ads are actually appearing in the new format which leaves us in a challenging position when trying to determine the exact impact on performance/ROI and then feeding this back to our clients. The chance of the new ad format having a negative impact on CTR for the ad it has been applied to is probably pretty slim, however I can imagine there may be a negative effect on the CTR of ads that compete against the enhanced ad. I don’t like the idea of having to leave this to chance especially when CTR is one of the main factors that determines the CPC we pay to Google.
      Inside AdWords currently states the following when describing the latest extended headlines format: “while only some ads will be shown with the longer headline, you can increase your chances by ensuring that each line of your ad appears to be a distinct sentence and ends in the proper punctuation (e.g., a period or a question mark). Since this is a global change, punctuation will vary by country”.
      For those of us who manage global accounts across a number of countries this is a vague statement to say the least! In order to “increase my chances” of being able to test the new format and enjoy the potential increase in CTR and resulting decrease in CPC, we essentially have to review all ad copy trying to identify “some” ads that may be affected across each country, while taking into consideration the punctuation variations that appears within those countries. This is unfortunately not the most efficient way of working.
      So while I do welcome the new ad formats and feel that they are a necessary element of the Google Adwords puzzle, offering potential opportunities for our clients to engage with their customers in new ways, I do so with slight consternation of the need to relinquish a little bit of control… until Google decide to start sharing vital performance metrics with their advertisers. Feb 11, 2011 10:57 am

    • Emma

      I definitely agree with your point on the lower case domain names.  For some advertisers it just looks dreadful and doesn't help their brand to stand out.  What about advertisers whose brand name is written in captials such as TK Maxx?  In your screenshot, that Miss Selfridge display URL looks a bit weird as well.

      As for the concatenated headline and description 1, I think that could work really well for some advertisers.  But of course, it really does depend on what was originally written, and in some cases I can see that headline just looking a bit odd.  According the AdWords blog the change is permanent, and was only in beta testing during January.  If it's a hit, then could we perhaps see a new approach to ad copy writing, where more emphasis is placed on what appears in the headline and description 1?

      Nevertheless, in both cases I just think it's a shame that Google is forcing advertisers in to these new ad formats, rather than offering them as an option.  Sure, CTR may be better accross the board, but what works for advertisers A doesn't necessarily work for advertiser B....Feb 9, 2011 03:28 pm

    • Mike Turnham

      Not giving advertisers impression data on these different ads is one of the more frustrating aspects of the new ad formats. it would certainly be useful to understand the performance of these different ad types, but currently there is no visabilty on how many impressions are given to each type of ad.

      I think Google should focus on improving backend usability, functionality and data reporting on the existing formats which are proving to be successful (i.e. sitelinks, which seems to be exeptionally under-developed considering the level of adoption it has recieved).Feb 9, 2011 03:24 pm

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

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