2013 has seen plenty of changes to paid search, mainly driven by Google. For a brand in a competitive market like insurance, little tweaks here and there matter.
Changes include the addition of Google's own comparison products to the SERPs, meaning less visibility for organic results, enhanced campaigns, and changes to the style of PPC ads.
I've been asking Heledd Jones, head of search marketing at Confused.com (and an Econsultancy guest blogger), about the challenges presented by these changes, and her thoughts on how PPC will evolve in the next year.
Over the last four months, Google has been ramping up its publicity of a more aggressive target for mobile site performance: sub one second page load times.
Enforcement of this aspiration comes from Google's usual source: algorithmic rewards for sites achieving this goal. You just need to look at how industry commentary has exploded around site speed issues over the last couple of years to see the impact this strategy has had.
I fully expect to see this industry focus switch to mobile-specific commentary through 2014.
Let's take a look at the evidence, and the SEO opportunity...
A paid search algorithm update by Google has led to an improvement in the performance of PPC adverts that include an ad extension.
But overall the new AdWords Ad Rank update actually caused a slight decline in ad performance.
The update, which was announced back in October, altered the way that Google determines the order of paid search ads by adding in a third variable alongside the maximum bid and quality score.
This new variable is the expected impact of ad extensions and formats, and it has apparently had a notable impact on PPC results. So in effect, the use of ad extensions and formats can now influence ad position in the SERP.
The elements that are considered when determining the potential impact of extensions and ad formats include relevance, click-through rates, and the prominence of extensions and results on the SERP.
The results of the study are summarised below, but firstly here's a run through of the ad extensions that Google takes into account.
Even after seven years of YouTube's existence, brands still aren’t making much of a dent in the ‘YouTube 5,000’, an elite group of channels with at least 43m views each.
Theoretically brands have a much greater advantage than your average YouTuber as they have more money to produce content, however according to Touchstorm’s latest study, The Touchstorm Video Index, only 74 of the YouTube 5,000 channels are from brands.
In November 2013 I took a look at YouTube strategy for brands. I revealed some surprises from the research, and recommended some guidance on how brands can improve their YouTube reach.
Yesterday I talked to the SVP of marketing and production at Touchstorm, Sean Womack, about the topic, and he offered the following advice for brands.
I hate the word granular. I spend half my life tweaking and fiddling with PPC campaigns across different platforms.
The word granular invariably means spending even more time setting up campaigns. The problem is, the only way to achieve, monitor and maintain success in PPC is by going granular. The same holds true for Google Product Listing Ads.
I first went granular with my bog standard AdWords search network text ads soon after starting out in PPC. I went granular with my Product Listing Ads at a much later stage however.
When I first setup Product Listing Ads (PLAs) I had to do so with the assistance of the official Google documentation and a few third party guides. It’s all a bit fiddly.
Most of these guides seemed to encourage large ad groups for one reason or another. Against my better judgement I just went along with it, wasting thousands of pounds in the process.
Last month, with the help of Dr Pete Meyers from Moz, we looked at how PPC ads are changing and what they will look like next year.
Some of these predictions have already happened, such as the yellow 'ad' labels and less obvious background shading.
One of the themes of that article was Google's efforts to make ads blend in more on results pages, something Dr Meyers referred to as 'ads in sheep's clothing'.
This is now happening in Google's UK results, with the top PPC ads on some brand searches resembling results more than ads.
Only 74 of the top 5,000 YouTube channels are from brands.
This research comes from Touchstorm’s latest study, The Touchstorm Video Index, covering Q3 2013 and concentrating on the 'YouTube 5,000', an elite group of channels with at least 43m views each.
Of those 5,000 channels, only 2% are owned by brands. That means there are 4,926 teenagers with webcams, older people with camcorders, vloggers with flipcams, bedroom animators with smartphones and various other fashionistas, musicians, close-up magicians, action figure critics and amateur film-makers who are completely dominating the platform and squeezing out the big companies.
What can brands do about this? Is there any hope for them?
Here are some key findings from the report, along with our own insight, ideas for strategy and a look at the brands who are using YouTube successfully.
Are you an advertiser running a PPC campaign? Is there something not quite right with your paid search costs? Does your performance data contain unexplained anomalies?
Have you heard the term ‘click fraud’ bandied around the internet and think that you could be its next victim?
I realise that while writing this introduction I was beginning to sound like a fear-mongering, consumer-based TV show that makes even the most rational people think twice about leaving the house after dark, so I'll stop here.
Is click fraud something you should be aware of, and if so, to what extent does it affect your PPC campaign?
Google is constantly testing and tweaking its search results pages and presentation of ads, with the aim of better UX and of course, monetising its pages more effectively.
The two are not mutually exclusive, as the better the user experience, the more people are likely to use it and therefore attract advertisers and clicks.
Dr Peter J Meyers, Marketing Scientist at Moz, has been keeping tabs on tests carried out by Google, and he has some very interesting predictions of what the SERPs will look like next year.
His article on Moz.com looks at a number of changes, including the knowledge graph and greater use of boxed results, but I'll be focusing on changes to the appearance and placement of PPC ads.
Google has, for years, made no secret of its enthusiasm for blended search results, and for video in particular. But its repeated message is that organisations must focus first and foremost on audience.
The name of the game in video marketing best practices should be delivering first-rate video experiences to real people, rather than focusing on quick tricks to boost discoverability.