Adwords Express has generally improved since its initial nationwide rollout in January of 2011 and its name change in July of last year. It was initially dogged with poor targeting and huge spikes in monthly cost per click that often made their use untenable. I have continued to test it in a range of local situations and for some low dollar value campaigns in some markets it has worked very well. My relationship with Express has moved from wildly bipolar to only mildly bipolar.
One of the annoying aspects is the lack of control. For example Google adds review stars to your express ad and takes viewers directly to your Places page whether you want them to go there or not. The flip side of that is that they automatically provide click to call for your ads in a mobile environment. Another big downside is the inability to direct a user to a specific landing page. But it turns out to be a quick and relatively inexpensive local keyword research tool where it is sometimes hard to get a great list otherwise.
One of the big improvements has been the ability to create your own Ad Headline. Initially the product would ONLY show the business name in that field. The ability to correctly title your ad has improved targeting and increased the value of the ad for specific niches. But… and this is a big BUT …. along with that improvement Google is now apparently changing the ad title ON THE FLY. Not only are they changing the title to the business name they are shortening the business name to fit in the allowed 25 characters!
And Google does so without warning you that this might occur. As far as I can tell this behavior is NOT documented.
The assumption that Google knows best might be backed by reams of data, that doesn’t mean that I should not be given the option to either allow or disallow this behavior. Nor does it mean that Google should make these changes without asking my permission. Simplicity without explanation becomes duplicity in the eyes of the SMB.
Here is an ad that I recently found showing in the search results. Note the Ad Headline:
Here is the content that was created in the Places Dashboard:
Like many people, I have a less expensive, older LCD display at home that works just fine. With one exception. It makes Google Ads look just like a genuine search result. Obviously a screen shot doesn’t capture the “failings” of my typical display so I took a shot of the screen using my iPhone where you too can experience the lack of contrast. There is absolutely no distinction between the Adwords Express Ad and the local result. And the Adwords advertiser has the temerity to fake their reviews to boot.
But even when the yellow highlighting is visible, it might not really convey the fact that these are ads. My daughter, 19 and a reasonably savvy consumer of technology, asked me last week what the yellow meant. One assumes, in a company that tests things so much the decision is not accidental.
Do you think that Google makes the ads obvious enough?
(Click to view my bad photo of my LCD screen larger)
Awareness of Google’s new, aggressive & annoying Bubble ads has been creeping into the SMBs field of vision since their introduction 10 days ago. Articles have been posted at a number of sites (here, here & here) questioning their purpose. On Saturday alone, there were 4 posts in the Places Forum from SMBs specifically about Google advertising against a given place (here, here, here and here). And as you can imagine the posts were hostile and fearful.
It’s a bit disheartening to go to the trouble of creating a good Google Places business listing only to see an ad for a competitor prominently placed right smack in the middle of your map pin bubble – with a highlight color, to boot! 🙁
I understand this is probably How Google Wants it to Work. So how do you fight it? Does Google let you buy “Anti-Adwords” to prevent this from happening? Or do I just go for retaliation by buying Adwords that place my ad on my competitor’s listing?
If the ads were only on the side of the page with the listings I guess I could live with it, but right in the middle of my bubble – it just strikes me as mean.
I have been strongly opposed to the ads on broad social grounds and have not touched on the SMB perspective vis a vis these ads as much. Google has made it clear over the past 18 months that they perceive the Place Page and now the business’s Info Bubble their property to do with as they wish.
That’s the current reality. They own the sandbox and they can do what they want. But should they?
There is some irony that the Archdiocese of New York* is sandwiched between Children’s Rights and the NY Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Child in the Map search results and I suppose the bottom ad for a Child Protection Lawyer is somehow oddly relevant in this context.
But the ad for the Gay Church service shown against the Archdiocese manages to clearly demonstrate Google’s (lack of ) ability to target these ads correctly. It adds fuel to the already inappropriate fire that is the Bubble Ad… I never knew that the Adwords algo had such a twisted sense of humor.
Google has recently (exactly when is not clear) separated the Adwords Express analytics from the standards dashboard view of Places analytics. Until very recently the analytics for both your free Places Listing and your paid Adwords Express ad were shown in a consolidated view:
I have a love hate relationship with the elegantly simple Google’s Adwords Express. One of the things I love is that for a business with more than 2 reviews and greater than an 4 star rating, it will show your star rating with the ad. One of the things I hate is that, unbeknownst to the business placing the ad, if the stars are clicked, it is a billable event and the searcher is taken to your Places Page NOT the web page that you had opted for when you purchased the ad.
On the Places Page, the searcher is subjected to seeing both additional ads AND a list of nearby competitors. Perhaps a reasonable trade off if the business was aware of the quid pro quo or could opt out, but neither is the case. Regardless it hardly seems reasonable that a business should be paying for the privilege of showing a searcher additional ads on Google.
There are a number of other issues I have with the practice besides the indignity of paying to have users to see more ads and learn about your competitors:
1- There are no analytics of the event. It is impossible to see how many ads that were clicked went to the Places Page instead of your website thus it is difficult to asses the value of the ad. A click on the stars shows in the Places analytic as an action and exactly the same as a visit to your website.
2- A corollary to the above is that there is no ability to track the campaign accurately. Since the click never makes it to your website there can be no measurement of conversions or goals in Analytics or the value of the click.
3- There is no indication in the Help files that you are paying when a user clicks on the star. I had to confirm the practice by contacting Google.
4- More importantly, as most Express users do not make it to the Help files, there is no indication in Places that your ad will show your review stars or that a click on them is billable.
5- When you place the ad, there is no indication that the user might be sent to your Places Page even though you explicitly selected the option for sending the user to your web page.
6-If a business has no reviews or a low star rating they are not paying this extra fee. How is that fair? Only better businesses are thus taxed?
With Adwords and location extensions you have the option to enable clicks to call. You pay if the searcher does in fact call. That is a reasonable option in that it is both a choice to turn it on or not and it is an event that is measurable and likely to lead to a conversion.
The other Adwords case where Google will show review stars is with the seller ratings extensions option. In that case you are also “automatically opted in to showing seller ratings with your ads”. (Where is a good copywriter when we need one? Does “opt” not mean choice? Oxymoronic at best.) In this seller ratings case however, when the searcher is taken to the product reviews, it is not a billable click. While it may disrupt your purchase funnel, the pros seem to outweigh the cons.
While a review highlighted Adwords Express ad is more visually attractive, the total lack of knowledge, control and tracking makes this one of those options that is easy to hate.
Update Wednesday 8/17: Google checked into this situation and claims on the digital/computer science equivalent of a stack of bibles that this was just a coincidence. Here is the communication that was forwarded to me:
After looking into the customer’s situation, we can confirm that there is no connection between the AdWords Express ad being disapproved and his Places listing not appearing. There was a technical error that prevented the listing from appearing, but that issue was specific to Google Places. Participation in AdWords Express does not affect the ranking of free, organic business listings in any way.
The recently named BoostAdwords Express has more than a few oddities that might not make it the ideal SMB advertising tool. But this one is a show stopper: If business places an Adwords Express ad for a category for which they have a A position, their natural A position local listing will be removed from the main search results 7-Pack.
“I had an interesting prospective client email. His Place Page was not showing ANYWHERE when I first looked at some prominent keywords for his business. The client swore he was ranking #1 for a couple of key phrases prior to emailing me. He had been advertising on Adwords Express. He shut it off and IMMEDIATELY it went back to letter A for a generic phrase when I checked again.”
My Google local adwords rep called me later in the week and, in a totally unrelated context, said:
“If they are in the top position of Places – an Adwords Express Ad will cause the Places listing to not show”
He went on to sensibly recommend that a business NOT use a category from their Places page for which they were doing well and to use one of the other categories. Makes sense.
It has long been thought that taking out an Adwords campaign would not affect your ranking on Google search. In fact we have long been under the impression that there was a firewall of sort between the two results. This clearly calls that long held belief into question, at least in the Local space.
My grandfather was born and bred on the lower East Side of New York City in the early 1900s. He moved to upstate NY after WWII to join my father in business.The subtleties of gentile conversation that was the norm in rural NYS were largely lost on my grandfather. He was a large, loving, lovable direct man but one who spoke with the frankness of having grown up on the streets of NYC. At one time or another he had been scrambling to make a living having as a merchant, a fruit vendor with a cart and a taxi cab driver. I envied his ability to literally cut heavy wrapping twine with his bear hands (a skill I never was able to master).
Once in the mid 60’s, when I was probably in 8th grade, he was giving me a ride home from work. We saw a classmate of mine standing on the curb waiting for a ride. As was the style at the time, she was wearing a short skirt, fishnet stockings and perhaps a bit too much make up. He gruffly noted that she looked like a 2 bit hooker. I recognized that my grandfather was not current with the style of the times but his point, that she appeared inappropriately tawdry and cheap, was heartfelt. Nothing I could say would change his mind. Was he just out of date or did he have a valid point of view?
At the time I was shocked at his “provincial” assessment but have come to think him more right than wrong. Certainly the need for young women to dress in the ever changing fashions of the day, particularly ones that objectify them as sex toys, could be considered a less than ideal aspect of our commercial culture.
It is a conversation that I have never forgotten and one that comes to mind as I look at Google’s on-going hotel booking experiment on the main search results pages. Literally every item above the fold is either an ad or has the booking option attached to the result. Google experiences the demands of every corporation to increase their income but exactly when does commercialization of the front page pass from tasteful to tawdry?
Mike Ramsey of NiftyMarketing, a local search marketer from Idaho, sent along this screen shot reflecting a name change to the Boost product:
The change has not yet made it over to the Boost Help pages. Certainly it makes sense from a branding perspective to leverage Google’s well known, existing ad brand although I doubt that it will make the bidding basis of the pricing more obvious.
I just got off the phone with Kiley McEvoy, Product Manager Lead on Boost Adwords Express at Google to let me know that Google will be formally announcing the rebranding of the Boost product shortly.
Here are some of his comments:
We have seen great success with the Boost product and signup rate and to better indicate its ties to Adwords we are going with new name.
We have seen users in all 50 states and tens of thusands of customers. I spend a lot of time talking to customers and the main piece of feedback is that they are surprised by the simplicity. The product is so simple that it has allayed fears of involvement in on-line advertising. A pizza shop that was getting 30 clicks per day had to pause their campaign due to significant increase in business.
I did inquire as to specific numbers or percentage of claimed accounts using Boost but he was unable to be explicit.
He indicated that there is a new requirement, introduced a number of weeks ago, that an Adwords Express ad be created for each category. With this better targeting, users will be less likely to see large jumps in bid pricing that I experienced in my “legacy” ad campaign that had one ad with two categories.
He also noted that there is a new signup procedure flow (now visible here) that allows a business to sign up for both Places and Adwords Express simultaneously. In the new process, verification required for the Places listing, is no longer required for an Adwords Express ad to start to run. The ad can run independtly of an approved Places listing as long as the ad point to your website. If a Places listing is rejected or suspended the ads will continue to run.
Google recently announced that they would now display Adwords ads with Local extensions with an associated push pin and a place the Map.
The display format of the ad is very similar but not the same as a Boost ad. There are two differences: On an Adwords ad, the title of the ad can be anything not just the business name and the push pin contains a letter not just a dot.