Last week, Google (as well as announcing SSL encryption for search) introduced perhaps the most significant changes to its PPC algorithm for some time. 

Google has changed the proportion of quality score weighting to make landing page relevancy more important, a moving away slightly from of click through rate (CTR) as the primary metric for an ad’s success. 

I’ve been asking some PPC experts about how the changes will affect brands and advertisers… 

What is your view of the changes? 

Kevin Gibbons, Founder, SEOptimise

In theory, it makes sense. Google’s algorithm, both for natural and paid listings, has always been about providing the users with the most relevant result possible. So if you’re optimising for a long-tail query using SEO, you will naturally be looking to send users to a specific landing page which is focused around this term. 

That’s good for the user, because they are being sent to a targeted landing page for the exact query they searched for and it cuts out the need for unnecessary additional browsing in order to find the information/product etc that they searched for originally. 

However, it’s not a one-fits-all algorithm change in my opinion. While it makes sense in theory to have specifically targeted campaigns, sending users to your homepage isn’t always due to laziness in advertising strategies, we’ve seen many cases where a homepage will convert at a much greater rate than a targeted landing page.

So while in theory it makes sense, in practice it may reduce the quality of the landing page from a user perspective and have a negative impact to revenues in some cases. 

Phil Pearce, Analytics Director at Jellyfish:

This change is in line with Google Adwords strategic plan to move beyond-the-click, as a means of increasing the industry average CostPerSearchQuery. 

CTR has always been (and still is) a necessary means of maximising revenue for Google, by filtering-out the good & bad advertisers; rewarding good advertisers who are generating a comparatively high volume of click, with a lower cost per click: Think Costco/Wal-Mart approach.

This tied with a Clicks-as-votes user centric marketing, has help Google skyrocket in terms of market share, brand recognition and revenue.

However, as the paid search market has matured, CPC prices have flat-lined, and increases in blended CTR are increasingly harder for Google to achieve. Clearly, paid search innovations such as Sitelinks, Ratings, Product Listing, +1 Social recommendations, all help create CTR uplift, but there is a fine line between revenue optimisation and a cluttered search page, which could lead to user leakage to Bing.

Additionally, Google is vulnerable to Comparison sites, Aggregators and Arbitrage sites who target the masses, rather than specific audience types, hence their adverts outperform brand advertisers especially on generic phrases – Think Generalist vs. Specialists.  

This creates a bizarre auction outcome, whereby pre-qualified ads (such as product prices or loan requirements) actually cause an increase in CPC for the advertiser, due to “low impressing voting” and thus a penalised account level quality score.

Lastly, Google Adwords is tied to the CPC model, as mainstream usage of CPA-only model for paid search could be seen as biased, non-consumer friendly or it could taint the Google brand.

The ~10% CTR shift from 60% to 50%, and redistribution towards ~25% relevancy and ~15% landing page (with ~10% account level QS unchanged) will lead to re-focusing of efforts from AdCopy optimisation, towards a more granular matching of Keyword-to-Adcopy-to-Landing Page.

Think user-intent matched to offer/answer fulfilled on landing page. It could lead to a more honest Advertising environment, with excessive adcopy claims matched with unrealistic landing pages, eventually downgraded in the ppc auction.

Matt Whelan, PPC Director at Guava:

This has been live in a number of countries for a while now and our colleagues there didn’t report much of an impact, so I suspect we won’t see too many changes. In general a move that is genuinely rewarding quality content has to be a good thing.

How will it affect brands and advertisers? 

Kevin Gibbons:

This is where it gets interesting, because in theory having a greater emphasis on landing page relevancy towards quality score does make sense – but it practice it’s going to be a huge challenge! 

I expect this will be a lot more difficult to roll out. One of the biggest challenges is always getting things done and justifying the effort of resources against the potential reward of these changes.

So I wouldn’t expect to see brands and advertisers rushing out to make major changes here until they can see the impact that this has had to their CPCs and CPAs. If these increase and make the campaign less profitable as a result, then it will clearly require more urgency.

Phil Pearce:

Pre-qualifying adcopy becomes more viable on generics and a closer attention to keywords with poor bounce rate, rather than just good CTR is increasingly important. Yes, this means the PPC manager needs to use GA a lot more! Rollup those sleeves, and start digging into that data!

A bulk review of all keyword penalties to fix the quick wins is a good plan.

Checking daily account level QS and first page bid over the last few months is a good barometer to see if there is a negative change.

Running a “QS what’s changed report” in Excel, before & after the update on Monday, should highlight any keywords that have been negatively affected, then updating the landing pages or keyword-adcopy combo for these terms should be adopted.

Enabling Google plus1 buttons on landing pages and help improve Ad destination to social recommendation.

Utilising landing page trustmarks, or even Google Trusted ecommerce stores beta in USA is a good plan.

Matt Whelan:

The change is designed to reward engaging landing pages, and a vast majority of advertisers are already doing this right.

If you don’t have an engaging landing page you end up paying for traffic that is only going to bounce away, so this was already pretty high on the agenda for most marketing departments.

It’s far more likely to impact affiliate sites, many of whom are still driving traffic to thin sites with little content via PPC and then referring that traffic to the brands,  and this is without a doubt Google’s intent, to better facilitate the positioning of brands in good positions in the SERP at the expense of sites that add little value.

It’s important to remember that Google won’t roll out any change that negatively impacts its revenue from search, so in aggregate this won’t really mean cheaper clicks, it simply means that established brands, who are probably already doing landing pages right, might see a small increase in position and hence volume as some smaller advertisers get penalised.

Will the greater importance placed on landing pages provide a challenge for PPC agencies? 

Kevin Gibbons:

Yes, but again, more in the sense of pushing clients into implementing changes, especially for large accounts where the number of keywords being bid on are into the tens of thousands.

Plus they will need to weigh up where time is most effectively spent, at the moment it’s unclear how significant the impact of this change will be, and it will affect each advertiser in different ways.

I’d expect to see PPC agencies managing the effort involved by taking an incremental approach towards prioritising landing page changes to top performing campaigns and adgroups, rolling this out gradually and reviewing the impact in terms of performance before pushing this out on a wider scale.

It will need testing heavily, with the most important metric still being cost per acquisition, as opposed than quality score or CPC, so you need to consider how an improvement in landing page relevancy impacts your CPAs and overall revenue generated from the campaign.

I’d also expect to see dynamic keyword insertion into landing pages becoming a more popular PPC tactic in order to boost quality scores based on passing each search query into the optimisation of landing pages via URL parameters. 

Phil Pearce:

CTR is still the strongest signal in the auction, so don’t panic! The world is not ending, it’s not an overnight shift. But ensuring that your GA account is connected to Adwords, landing pages are URLs recorded in GA are clean of url parameters, site speed is enabled and installed correctly, will all help.

Utilising the inbuilt reports for landing page analysis, setting up ppc dashboards within GA, and creating campaign alerts, and will all help the client maximise sales though a combination of CPC management, landing page optimisation, user experience testing and clever analytics.

Matt Whelan:

Only very rarely do agencies get full control over the page they are sending traffic to, so there is a risk here.

However, most agencies will always have been looking to help their clients improve landing pages, as this improves the value of the traffic they send and ultimately helps justify their fee. I don’t think there’s any greater risk now than there has ever been.