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The lines between paid and organic search marketing are increasingly blurred and, with the announcement from Google that they will now be offering Expanded Text Ads, there are some who have the opinion that this is only going to get worse.
I had some questions for our head of Biddable, Nate Wood, and one of our Technical SEO Gurus, Steve Jones, on what are the pros and cons Expanded Text Ads are and also what the implications are for businesses and their search marketing strategies. The resulting conversation was fascinating and concludes that, although Expanded Text Ads may be a small(ish) spanner in the works, the implication for businesses, and our clients, is three fold:
1. Integrate - Review your search marketing strategy by channel and ensure that SEO and PPC are not competing with one another.
2. Expand - If your search marketing is purely reliant on SEO, consider expanding into Paid Search to increase visibility and authority.
3. Measurement - Blur the lines between SEO and PPC KPI and success metrics. Give search marketing an overall KPI and then define the role of SEO and PPC in delivering it.
Steve Jones (SJ) – “The development of expanded text ads further blurs the lines between paid and organic results. There’s already research, and anecdotal evidence, that show large sections of the internet population have issues in distinguishing between the two. Having the extended title and description is going to make them look even more like organic results, if the user mistakes the ‘Ad’ button as some other kind of rich snippet feature.”
Nate Wood (NW) - “We need to remember that, broadly speaking, Users don’t see ads or organic results – they just see the link they want to click on. The quality of paid ads within search has come a long way since the first implementation of a paid results feature - ads can often be more relevant and targeted to users queries because they are essentially manually curated, rather than purely algorithmic. Blurring the lines between ads and organic content isn’t an argument for not doing more with ads, especially if those ads provide the means for a search engine to continue to serve up organic results.”
SJ – “The shake-up of the ad interface frees up more room on the right-hand side for Google Knowledge Panel, keeping people within the monetised SERPs, and moving more ad space to the top of the page where clickthrough rates are higher. All in all, it’s a positive change for Google’s potential ad revenue, but it is going to have implications for site traffic if you are now below-the-fold in the organic results. Google has traditionally lost value to sites that enjoy a high organic position and don’t run a paid campaign. Many of these companies are going to have to revise their expectations of organic traffic and revenue and start having to pay Google for more of their business instead.”
NW – “For businesses that don’t currently use PPC, I would suggest it is time to consider using it and the value it will drive - brand term monitoring is the first easy step. This will help keep on top of competitors who are starting to appear for their brand terms. It is also important to weigh up the costs of paid advertising and the value of gaining visibility above your competitors and above the organic listings. It isn’t a bad thing… surely appearing in the knowledge graph, organic listings and paid search ads all for a single search term reinforces your brands message and also authority?”
SJ – “For most businesses that are not already a dominant search result for their chosen niche, this means that considering a paid search strategy is no longer a luxury or something to do “further along the line”. Mobile is going to become an increasingly paid-only market for search traffic. Brands need to consider other ways of reaching large mobile segment audiences, such as easy bookmarking, dedicated apps, referrals and social reach.”
NW - “Businesses that are not already dominating the search results for their chosen niche should already be considering the use of paid advertising to reinforce the brand authority and put them in front of their audience for relevant, intent driven search terms. Building a brand-intent association is just as important for paid search as it is for organic. Search advertising enables you to have more control of when and how you appear in the search results space. Businesses should be looking at how the two disciplines work alongside each other and trying to maximise the full opportunity.”
SJ – “It places more importance on securing brand-related query traffic. Being seen as a dominant association for brand queries will naturally direct searchers to a higher-placed brand page, where they will usually be a high conversion rate. Previously, some companies have valued their brand in terms of what search keywords they dominate organically, rather than establishing a value proposition for their customers. This has encouraged some underhand practices and Google has been trying to reverse this philosophy for quite a while. I believe that expanded text ads are a further step along this process: if you can’t creatively or practically create a good reason why people should seek you out organically, be prepared to pay more to get more traffic.”
NW – “I disagree, paid search isn’t just about throwing money at search terms. Relevance plays a huge part and similarly with SEO creativity and a good reason to why people should use your businesses is important. By having a strong organic presence and a strong paid presence you are covering all bases and will be on your way to dominating the results.”
SJ – “I agree. Essentially, it’s a challenge, but not the End Of Days that tends to be predicted on a regular basis for SEO. Businesses need to understand what changes this will cause to their customer traffic patterns and adapt their marketing strategy accordingly, until the next change rolls out.”
NW – “It is a challenge for businesses that haven’t considered paid search. But in my opinion SEO and PPC should be working hand in hand. By covering all bases the business name is going to be dominating the space in more channels than one. It is important to start reviewing current marketing strategies to ensure your businesses are covering all bases and have plans of action for the impact of the new search ad format. It is vital that SEO best practices are followed and PPC supports organic listing opposed to working in competition with each other.”
So, I think it’s fair to say we can conclude that although Expanded Ads may, to some, may seem like a small spanner has been put in the works with regards to organic visibility, businesses need to appraise the level of integration they apply to the search marketing strategies. As the lines between Ad and Organic results blur, so too should their success metrics and goals.
We would love to hear your thoughts regarding the impact of expanded text ads on PPC and SEO in the comments section below.