Google is cutting down the organic search results with more paid placements but this time its for its own comparison platform
Rodrigo Stockebrand noticed earlier today that his search queries for the generic term “mortgage rates” had started to show a new style AdWord’s result at the top of the organic results and it seems to be more than just a small test group. It was covered briefly in a quick post at SEL by Barry Schwartz, but I thought there was more to explore around the new comparison ads and evaluate their longer term impact for advertisers and business.
It seems that the early Google’s AdWords comparison ad experiment has been expanded to cover home loan and mortgage products but has also taken place at the top of the search results in a 4th sponsored link. The issue is that Google websites have an artificially inflated Google Quality score which guarantees any of their products top placement and potentially inflates the costs of advertising on that keyword, and the additional box is clearly a separate module as you can see thin white line between it and the standard AdWords modules. Below is a screenshot of the new Google AdWords product which is exclusive to Google’s own comparison products, it’s not clear if it was manually placed for certain search queries to guarantee it would show just below the search bar. But other advertisers should be able to check in their AdWords account under average position on if its showing even thou they are shown as top position.
One of the bigger concerns is that it doesn’t just affect competitors who are buying traffic with AdWords it compounds the problems for those trying to rank organically, there is more paid space and more Google products and less room for natural listings. While this extra Google comparison ad has obviously pushed down the other ads, on my 1920×1080 resolution monitor it was less dramatic, but a majority of users don’t have a monitor so large so I dived into my visitor information contained in my Google Analytics accounts to find a baseline monitor size. Looking at the average website visitors from my Google Analytics data around 48-54% of people have a screen resolution of between 1024×768 to 1280×1024 so I thought I would test the 3 smaller monitor sizes as to how it impacts the competitive landscape.
1920×1080 Resolution Monitor
Analysis: You can see that there is actually now only 5 organic results showing above the fold (visible without scrolling down) and the 6th result just creeps in. The problem for organic rankings is that unless you are in the top 5 you are now going to miss out on a majority of the clicks, where in the past top 7 rankings still keep you above the fold. Dynamic AdWords like these will also continue to change Google users behaviour and may have a dramatic long-term effect on the perceived importance of the organic results and further increase the market share of Google’s own products.
1280×1024 Resolution Monitor
Analysis: You can see that with the 1280×1024 resolution SXGA monitor but you can see that with the new Google Comparison Ads that showing below the 5th result on the first page will mean that you miss a majority of the potential clicks. Its hard enough for some clients to get to the 1st page on Google now it’s a case depending on your typically visitors you have to be in the top 5.
1280×768 Resolution Monitor
Analysis: By shrinking the monitor size down slightly more to 1280×768 resolution it even cuts out the Google News results and also now only 7 AdWords ads are showing, decreasing the number of advertisers who are able to be seen. It also reduces the organic results down to 3 which further increases your reliability on buying traffic from AdWords or from the new Google Comparison Ads.
1024×768 Resolution Monitor
Analysis: The final screenshot is actually based on 1024×768 which is a 19inch monitor far larger than most laptop screens and still if you view the same result on a netbook you can actually only see the first organic result because of the 4 AdWords results showing at the top. Again Google News results are gone and there is 1 less Google AdWords spot on the right hand side.
Advice: If you are in this vertical start to examine in your web analytics solution the screen resolution of your typically visitors who just visit and those who generate a lead or revenue. It will start to provide you a guideline as to if you are trying to increase your paid traffic what position you should try to bid for and from an organic ranking where you should be aiming if you want more clicks. You want to break it down by those who just browse and those who actually generate a lead or revenue for your company.
Google’s potential audience?
The potential audience which is now able to see these new comparison ads is huge and its likely that the CTR from the other ads will plummet, which will likely impact their quality scores and lead to them having to pay more to bid for the same positions. By Google offering a better quality Ad they are changing the behaviour of how people will select what ads to engage with but are also limiting other advertisers clicks as consumers are draw to the new style ad box. The traffic volume based on the single generic keyword “mortgage rates” has estimated 1,000,000 monthly searches in the US with an average CPC rate of $14.88, according to Google’s own Google AdWords tool which is a massive audience to test the impact of its platform. The question is how much cheaper is it to buy the lead directly from Google compared to fighting with other advertisers in the AdWords market?
Google’s invasive ad box
While its interesting to see how Google is experimenting with new Ad types, I have discovered that there is also a second ad that Google is running which offers a bit more interactivity for users with a drop down menu for the approximate home value for quicker rate comparisons.
As you can see in the screenshot below, the bigger issue is that when consumers actually interact with the ad it blocks a majority of the competitors advertising message and also close to half of the first 2 organic results. This type of ad seems to lack any aspects of tact by how it impacts and overrides the competitors presence on the page. These types of ads show that Google is testing the ads for different markets where you might want to compare two pricing points before visiting the website. Obviously Google is tracking all the interactions and may start to refine the pricing points as it gathers more data on users, so those who are based in a lower economic area may start to see slightly different approximate home values or even APRs….
The CTR between the two ads modules being tested would be quite interesting as if users with different motivation or at a different stage of the buying cycle. Obviously to further understand the mortgage market Google is bidding on search traffic for its comparison ads around a number of keywords, but I’ve select the top 20 related keywords based on estimated monthly search volumes, but it’s also interesting what keywords they are choosing not to bid on.
Google is also bidding on the following keywords
- mortgage loan rates
- mortgage loan interest rates
- home loan interest rates
- mortgage interest rates
- current mortgage interest rate
- best mortgage interest rates
- current mortgage rates
- home mortgage rates
- home mortgage interest rates
- refinance mortgage rates
- refinancing mortgage rates
- mortgage rate calculator
- current home mortgage rates
Analysis: obviously most of these keywords are very high volume but are also closely related to “mortgage” but you notice that “home loan” is also featured which shows they might be testing language for different markets such as the UK or Australia.
Advice: Look at the ROI around these terms and if you are not already bidding on them, I would advise doing a trial with their own campaign and own budgets. Remember Google buys search traffic with AdWords for branding and for testing so you should look at buying the same traffic but for testing.
Google is not bidding on the following
- compare fixed mortgage rates ($0.05/cpc)
- bad credit mortgage rates ($35.72/cpc)
- home mortgage loan rate ($18.72/cpc)
- best mortgage loan rate ($36.37/cpc)
- current mortgage rates canada ($4.61/cpc)
Analysis: Obviously the product is US focused so any terms that focus outside the country such as “current mortgage rates canada” are likely to be ignored. The keyword that The Google AdWords tool said has the most traffic “compare fixed mortgage rates” is likely a bug or very low quality traffic. It’s likely that Google is avoiding some of the very expensive terms because the ROI doesn’t match with their comparison ad business model or they are just overpriced.
Advice: Best look at what other keywords Google is not bidding on and if you are take a closer look at the ROI and KPIs around those terms as they have been ignored for a good reason.
Google protects its mortgage leads
The screen shot below shows you a sample of the Google mortgage comparison page, where you can filter out and compare mortgages with a few clicks. The comparison mortgage is generic enough to be expanded to feature an entire comparison shopping site as the URL structure also hints at future products can easily be added google.com/comparisonads/mortgages.
Google doesn’t want to miss out on a single dollar of commission or miss a single conversion if possible and have built a fairly idiot proof contact system that can be automatically tracked and optimised. When you visit the comparison mortgage page you will see there is 3 contact options available for each lender: phone, call back and email. Call back and email appear to be exactly the same contact form but are coded slightly differently for tracking purposes which will affect future AdWords bidding strategies.
Google is actually fairly smart in how their built the platform as the number listed above is a special Google phone number that will forward your call to the lender, but it can also be used to track the lead generated. If you fill out the request a call or email lender contact form Google provides the lender with another special Google phone number that will forward to you which they can also track as a lead. Any details that you enter such as Street Address or Zip codes are just passed onto IntelliReal that has partnered with Google.
Will Comparison Ads expand to other verticals?
I say yes, based on how Google is growing its maps & technology platforms its only a matter of time before it expands its product to include other verticals. It’s easy to see Google expanding its comparison ads to include Real Estate & Hotels as they already offer a simple search function within Google Maps as shown below. You have already seen one comparison ad that featured a drop down box which shows they have the technology to place other interactive items into their text ads now.
Search for New York hotels directly from within Google Maps
Search for New York real estate from within Google Maps
It’s likely that Google has a number of options to increase its revenue by competing for direct leads and sales and cutting out resellers and affiliates but the question is how quickly they will risk upsetting their advertisers or how much money they can make on the comparison ad platform. Do you take the path to doing more of the work generating leads and hope the reduced revenue from your advertisers doesn’t drop quicker than you can grow your comparison shopping products?
Google Comparison Ads expanding internationally?
If you want to know when Google Comparison Ads might be expanded to your country I suggest keep an eye out for any new financial licensee such as when Google registered Google Payment Australia back in 2007, in what was thought to be part of Google Checkout Australia. Google Payment Australia Pty Ltd was supposed to be setup for local Checkout services and has a Australian Financial Services licence (No. 318755). Google Australia holds the licence under which it is authorised to offer Google Checkout as a “non-cash payment product”. The Google company is not licensed as a bank or deposit-taking institution in Australia and does not provide banking services but might allow it to soon offer a similar comparison ad platform in Australia soon.