Truncation Aggravation Within Google Mobile Paid Search Results

Once upon a time, in a search engine era not so long ago, there was a company named Yahoo who was struggling to maintain their search engine dominance. In an effort to combat market share losses, Yahoo made the decision to truncate the advertising copy character limit presented in results to make itself look more like its chief rival Google. Without advertiser approval, Yahoo shortened the characters in advertising listings from 170 down to a total of 70.

Their actions would later become a case study in internet marketing panic mistakes.  How dare Yahoo, at its own discretion, indiscriminately change ad copy that was created, approved and entered into their system with no expectation of alteration?  Consumers using the Yahoo search results were now unable to determine what advertisers were saying within their ads. Yahoo made the decision to alter ad copy and remove important marketing communications such as call to action messaging and offer statements. Conversion rates dropped, return on investment plummeted and Advertisers were outraged.

The damage was done a few years later, with Yahoo shuttering up its internal tech team, calling Microsoft and begging for their help when acquisition suitors walked away…leading to the creation of what we now know today as the search alliance.

Fast forward to the year 2015 where a new story has begun to be written with a similar plot.

On April 21, 2015 Google, with much fanfare, released its new organic algorithm aimed to revolutionize mobile search results for consumers. The goal of the update was to create a user experience that would ensure that when a user clicked on organic search results that they would be delivered to a high-quality responsive design mobile website that delivered a great mobile handheld user experience.

Little lead time notice was provided to advertisers, causing a mad dash scramble to change the coding of their mobile websites in order to come in compliance with the new best practices being put forward by Google. Advertisers during this period took their focus off their poor performing Mobile paid search campaigns and focused their energy totally on making changes necessary to salvage their organic positioning for which they paid no money.

Within all the press release ballyhoo delivered by Google not once did they make mention of the fact that significant changes were coming to the presentation of their mobile search paid ad listings. And still today, at the writing of this blog post, most advertisers are unaware that Google made significant changes to ad presentation that may have impacted their ROI negatively.

So what were these changes? Well, they were based on a Napoleonistic strategy to re-create the failed strategy of Yahoo to truncate search ad listing characters without advertiser approval.

mobile-results-google
So during that week of April 21, 2015 Google began expanding and contracting pixeled real estate on the paid search results to ensure that the organic search results #1 position would always show itself above the mobile handheld screen fault. To improve SERP revenue performance, Google has increased the rotation insertion of ad extensions, call extension buttons and the manipulation of headlines to make them longer along with a larger text font in that headline.   In most cases, Position #1 is getting more allocated space and the biggest hit is being taken by ad position #2 given its real estate was reduced even more than ad position #1.

These changes have helped increase click rates overall, but the quality of the clicks have declined precipitously.  While impact on conversion quality has declined for both ad position, the conversion and click-to-call performance of ad position #2 is showing more significant decline than ad position #1.  This is most likely due to that listing consistently getting less real estate than ad position #1

Why is this performance decline happening?  To accommodate for the limited real estate now being dedicated to these paid ad positions, Google indiscriminately has begun truncating ad characters within the submitted ad copy on a similar basis that Yahoo did once upon a time. These actions are leading to serious implications for advertiser ROI while clicks and SERP revenue are running high for Google.

Our research has uncovered that due to the ad copy character limit truncation, call button interaction has decreased anywhere from 10% to 30% depending on the industry vertical. These phone calls tend to be the highest quality prospective leads and their quality is incorporated into the prices paid on a cost per click. The conversion rate on web clicks to lead submission have also decreased by 6% to 12%.  The performance decline was instantaneous and to date has not yet rebounded, meaning Google internal revenue goals have been achieved for another short-term quarterly SEC reporting fix and Advertisers will slowly adjust their bids to offset the damage while Google plots its next panic reaction to Wall Street displeasure.

So what can Advertisers do to combat these changes made by Google that are negatively impairing their ROI?

• Make use of mobile device preference ads to display a different message on mobile devices then what is being displayed on desktop and tablet.

• Optimize your marketing communication to target for a character limit of 52 characters or less to ensure your complete message is delivered without truncation.

• Make sure that important call to action and offer message components are incorporated in description line 1 to ensure Google does not remove these important components of your marketing strategy

As always, it is a disappointment that Google deems they do not need to communicate to Advertisers the changes they are making. Changes like these always have the possibility of negatively impacting the results and Advertisers deserve a heads up. Unfortunately we will have to continue roll with the punches in Mobile until Google figures out how to monetize the device in a manner that gets Wall Street to be pleased with their financial results again.