New ads have no history by which Google can judge them, so they often show lower than existing ads and have a worse click through rate as a result. If they replace an ad that has performed well for a long period of time, they won’t enjoy the same benefits until they earn them with their performance. You and I may know that they are a newer, better ad, but Google’s not going to reward them with higher ranks until it sees some data on them.
This is seen most obviously in top box placement. If an existing ad consistently shows in the top box, a new ad that replaces it will typically show in the side bar for at least a few hours, if not days. Position (and especially top box placement) has a much stronger effect on click through rate than promotional language, so you can lose a lot of traffic even with a strong promotion.
This is an important effect to take into consideration for any paid search account, but especially for ecommerce accounts that use their ads to highlight frequently changing promotions. It would seem to be common sense that replacing normal ad copy with promotional copy when a sale starts is a best practice, but it’s actually more complicated than that. Every now and then a perfect storm of conditions comes together in a paid search account to dramatically illustrate an effect that is usually more subtle, and a recent experience with a new client illustrates what can go wrong if promotional ads are rolled out without regard to how Google views new ads.
This client had a weekend sale that was set to run Friday to Monday, so on Thursday night, we uploaded the promotional ads as paused. On Friday, we switched on the new ads, switched off the normal ads, and were ready to go! The next week when we dug into the data to see how the sale had performed, we were happy to see that the sale had strongly increased conversion rates:
But somehow revenue dropped off at the same time before coming back in a big way on Sunday:
Ouch. So what happened there? Basically, when we launched the new ads, they didn’t have the history to qualify for their normal positions in the top 3 spots. They were all showing lower than usual and, on some queries, in the sidebar. This is pretty typical, but new ads will generally bounce back into the top spots after a couple hours, so it’s not something that normally has this big of an impact on performance.
However, in this case, our client is a manufacturer that has strong competition from its resellers, who are allowed to bid on its brand terms. With so much strong competition on our brand terms, once we dropped out of the top spots it took us almost two days to get back to where we were before launching the sale copy:
With the lower rank, our CTR’s suffered big time, basically being cut in half before returning to normal after two days:
That explains how we lost revenue despite our high conversions rates. Once we got customers to the site, they converted well. Unfortunately, our lower rankings kept us from getting our normal click through rates, so traffic dropped, bringing revenue with it. Once our ranks came back to normal levels, revenue bounced back and finished the weekend strong, so while the promotion wasn’t all bad, we could have done better.
So what does this mean for you? For most accounts, this will mainly be a problem on non-brand campaigns. Most brand campaigns don’t have the level of competition on them that this client does, so they will bounce back into the top spot pretty quickly after an ad change. When results are viewed at the account level, this will cover up any problems with the non-brand terms. If you do a lot of promotions, take a look back at your top performing non-brand campaigns during those promotions to see how this effect may have impacted your performance.
Now, let me be clear, I’m not suggesting that you stop launching new ads, but it is important to launch them in a way that will avoid any disruption to your account. With Q4 and its abundance of promotional ad opportunities just around the corner, you can make sure you’re maximising your performance with these best practices:
1. Don’t Change Ads on the Fly: If you’re tempted to take your existing copy and just switch out a line or two of text for the promotion- don’t. It’s much better to create new ads and upload them as paused before the promotion. This way, you know your ads are in the system and through the approval process. Plus, when the sale is over, you can revert back to your normal ads and they won’t be “new”.
2. Reuse Promotions: If you tend to use the same promotions over and over, create ads for them that are seasonally neutral, keep them in your account as paused, and reuse them as needed. Sure, it may be tempting to create a President’s Day free shipping ad, a Spring Sale Free Shipping ad, and a Memorial Day free shipping ad, but what’s important in those messages is the Sale itself. Create a generic ad that you can reuse for all three and you’ll benefit from not having to start from scratch each time.
3. Rotate Sale Ads with Normal Ads Initally: For this sale, we turned off all the regular ads once the sale ads were up. Next time, we can mitigate some of the rank drop by letting our normal ads continue to run with the sale ads for the first day or two.
4. Use Longer Promotions: We were lucky we had four days on this promotion to recover from the first two, but had it been shorter we would have been in trouble (and we could’ve benefited from an extra day or two). This is especially important to keep in mind for the Black Friday – Cyber Monday stretch when many people roll out Black Friday ads for a day, switch to normal ads for the weekend, and then roll out Cyber Monday ads for a day. Had we tried that with this client, we would have completely missed out on the best days of the year. Instead, we’ll be prepared with Holiday Sale or maybe Cyber Five language that we can keep up for the whole period.
5. Raise Bids When Promos Launch: A good sale should improve conversion rates, so raising your bids can help you drive more traffic and overcome any rank drop from the new ads.
Most importantly, remember that “common sense” can get you in trouble when it comes to pay per click advertising if it doesn’t take into account the nuances of how the engines work. In this case, rolling out promotional copy for our sale seemed like a no-brainer, but we actually ended up hurting our performance. With these tips, you can be sure that you are getting the most out of your promotions.
Written by Kevin Hill, Senior Paid Search Campaign Manager