How ignoring online reputation can destroy your PPC campaign
Don't make the mistake of ignoring your company’s ratings and reviews. Columnist Chris Silver Smith explains how your online reputation affects your PPC campaigns.
There is an attitude among digital marketers that pay-per-click advertising is easier to master than other types of online marketing. Unfortunately, taking a shortcut to prominence can go hand-in-hand with laziness, leading to a disregard for everything else online. This is a hidden cost — ignoring online reputation can be destroying your PPC campaigns. Let me explain.
Anyone who’s worked in search engine optimization for any length of time has run into people who are sometimes intimidated by the complexities that are involved. Either they feel that it’s too difficult to attempt to accomplish, or they’ve been burned by one of the myriad ongoing algorithm updates and washed up on the shore of abruptly ruined rankings.
They sometimes have declared bankruptcy on organic rankings and feel the best security is in just buying placement outright from Google, Bing and other significant online channels.
I’ve run into companies that primarily buy their placement in the online marketplace, as well as those that grew from old offline success and tend to feel that their online presence is a relatively minor aspect of their overall marketing. But almost every industry is inching toward the realization that their identity in the online, virtual world is now spilling over into the offline world. Constantly.
Your presence and identity in the digital arena will inevitably affect your success or failure in the real world.
How your online reputation impacts your PPC ads
Google’s changes in recent years have resulted in significantly more ads appearing at the top of search results. For some keywords and some industries, up to four ads may appear at the top, and depending on how many Extensions (such as site links, addresses and other stuff) may be included, they can occupy a considerable amount of visual real estate. (Some ad extensions do not appear on mobile devices.)
For some industries, online consumer ratings and reviews also have a large impact on which businesses are selected by consumers. For instance, if you needed $20,000 worth of renovations to your home, would you just go with the first company you find on Google? Or would you compare companies first?
What if one of the top companies in your town had better ratings than the rest? Would you care which one ranked highest, or would you care more about their consumer ratings? Ratings and reviews can appear in AdWords ads in Google, so this can directly affect how effective your PPC ads will be, as well as how much you’ll have to pay to appear and rank in the search results.
Ratings and reviews can both appear in Google PPC ads via Extensions, and they each have a different visual impact.
Third-party reviews in PPC ads
When setting up your ad campaign, Google will allow you to include a quoted or paraphrased review from a third-party source, as long as you attribute the source and provide a link to it. (See Google’s AdWords documentation for third-party reviews.)
As you can see, this extra text can make the ad slightly taller, and, more importantly, it might add just a little more information to make it more compelling and persuasive than the ads around it that do not include a positive review called out from an authoritative source.
TIP: These reviews with a link to the outside review source may also be risky to your ad’s performance under certain circumstances. Clicking the source link takes you to another page on a site you don’t control, where the potential customer may be distracted by something else. Also, when returning back to the original Google search results page, the original ad could now be displayed in a different position on the page, or not at all. And, with the Review Extension not appearing on mobile devices, and only appearing when Google’s ad algorithms allow, it’s not always present to help your ad performance and conversions.
So my tip is that you can include brief reviews in the ad copy text itself, where it’s likely to be more stable, and it will not result in extraneous clicks to other sites, although it will cut into your available promotional copy. You might test a version with the Review Extension, as well as with the review included in the copy, and see which performs best.
Here’s an example where the advertiser included their A+ Better Business Bureau rating in the ad’s copy itself:
Overall, however, I’d argue that the third-party review text extensions are not as influential as the Seller Ratings, because they’re simply not as visible.
Seller ratings in PPC ads
Google also allows one to have third-party Seller Ratings as an Extension to AdWords PPC ads. These ratings are pulled in from independent rating sites if the qualifications are met, according to Google’s AdWords Seller Ratings documentation.
The ratings values are pulled in from a specific list of ratings sources (Yelp, Superpages.com and YP.com are not included) if there are at least 30 reviews from the past 12 months, and the average value from all the ratings sources comes out to 3.5 stars or higher. If the rating source doesn’t use a one-to-five rating system, Google will translate the numerical value over to its five-star rating system for display, just as it does with enhanced search listing snippets.
Just as with organic search results, having the star ratings appearing in ads tends to make them much more visible and striking in the search results.
If your competitors appearing in the advertising section have rating stars in their listings, then it is a must-have element.
As mentioned earlier, for some types of industries, the ratings values become a critical element that factors into consumers’ decisions of whether to click on the ad and whether they’ll convert into buying what you offer. We can already see industries and keywords where the majority of ads include rating stars.
For example, here are ads appearing for a “florists” search:
In the “florists” ads example, the FTD ad does not have rating stars, while the two ads directly below it for Teleflora and 1-800-FLOWERS do. While FTD probably has somewhat better brand-name recognition, the star ratings of the other advertisers might make their ads more attractive for consumers looking to buy online.
FTD may be paying more than the other two advertisers for the same degree of exposure, or just to ensure its ad appears closer to the very top. In fact, the ad appearing in third place for 1-800-FLOWERS may be enjoying better click-through rates at lower costs than the two ads above it, because it shows a higher rating value of 4.4 stars.
How star ratings may ruin your AdWords quality score
The ratings values also can impact your ad’s Quality Score in this way: Your ad’s click-through rate (CTR) is a major aspect of its computed Quality Score, and the higher the CTR, the better. If your ad’s Quality Score is good, it will have a lower cost per click (CPC), and it will be more likely to appear higher in the ad rankings for its keywords.
The opposite is also true. If the other ads you’re competing with have a higher CTR due to having star ratings while your ad does not, then your ad will likely cost significantly more per click and will have lower rankings.
In a highly competitive keyword market, your ad might not be visible at all for most searches if it doesn’t have the ratings stars.
Further, I believe there’s a high likelihood that ratings stars outside of the advertiser sections in Google search results could also impact ad performance and Quality Scores, both positively and negatively. There’s long been research showing that having a presence in both the organic search results and the advertiser section simultaneously has a synergistic effect upon overall CTR.
In many cases, this likely occurs due to consumers seeing a company’s branding reiterated in both paid and organic search results, after which they may be more likely to click through to one or the other. But if some of your keywords’ organic search results include listings about your business that display very low star ratings, or listings that otherwise damage your reputation, you would logically expect to have a lower overall click-through rate.
How to disable your seller ratings if they’re hurting your PPC ads
It’s probably a much rarer case when you don’t want the star ratings to appear for your ads, but I can foresee some possible scenarios.
The primary scenario is probably where one’s rating score is significantly lower than the competition. While Google only allows the stars to appear for businesses with 3.5-star ratings or higher, this might actually work against you if your competition is all 4.5 and up. Even a small difference likely translates into impacts on CTR.
In other instances, one might find that users are clicking to read the information posted on the ratings page to which Google links the text beside the star ratings, and then they’re either turned off by the ratings and text on that page (since even the most negative reviews can and will appear there) or it just impacts conversion rates, as people get distracted after going to the linked ratings pages.
Google turns on the ratings values to appear with paid ad listings automatically. To disable or turn off the Seller Rating Extensions, go to this page: Opt-Out of Seller Ratings Extensions form.
TIP: You can turn the Seller Ratings Extension back on with that same request form, so I’d say it’s possible to merely pause the ratings stars for your ad for a period of time to test and see if it is good or bad for your ad. While in most cases, I would expect the ratings are desirable, testing to obtain actual, concrete data is always preferable.
Ignore your company’s ratings & destroy your PPC campaign performance
Judging from a number of anecdotal instances, I’d say many marketers aren’t aware that a company’s online ratings, or lack thereof, may be translating into significantly higher advertising costs and associated loss of market share. I don’t believe I’ve seen any other articles pointing out the direct relation between PPC ad costs and online reputation, so this may be a blind spot for many marketers.
The attitude that organic search results and online reputation are separate and unconnected is a fallacy.
Some marketers could even have been driven away from earlier PPC advertising attempts due to untenable, high ad costs, completely unaware that they were encountering much higher CPCs than their competitors because they did not have seller ratings with their ads, or due to having unattractively low ratings on other sites appearing in the same sets of search results.
If no one in your keyword market has seller ratings stars appearing with their ads, don’t be lulled into thinking it’s not an issue — these could appear at any time. This is another area requiring some proactive online reputation management in order to avoid higher costs later on.
Seller ratings can be a hidden weapon in paid advertising
A positive takeaway from all of this is that Seller Rating Extensions can be a hidden weapon for a great many businesses, and not just a hidden cost.
If your competitors don’t have star ratings appearing with their ads, you may have a relatively quick route available to hit them with a double-whammy. Take the steps necessary to build up your ratings and reviews so that your ad can be eligible to have ratings stars, and once they show up, you might both increase your competition’s advertising costs and intercept a lot more referrals of consumers.
Increasing their costs and decreasing their business simultaneously are almost certain to increase your relative market share — rapidly!
Finally, be aware that your online reputation is not separated from your paid advertising campaigns. It has the potential to dramatically affect your PPC performance, positively or negatively. If you’re looking to drive down costs and improve your AdWords Quality Score, don’t just obsess about your ad copy and landing page optimization — your lack of Seller Ratings in your ad, or even ratings appearing below the ads in the organic search results, may be more directly impactful.