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Why I Hate Ad Extensions

  |  March 18, 2014   |  Comments

Although there are endless touted benefits to ad extensions, here is a look why they may not be all they're cracked up to be, with 11 detailed reasons.

OK, "hate" is a strong word. If I were appropriately British, I’d probably soften this to "Why Ad Extensions Are Sometimes Found Wanting." Being Canadian, all I can do right now is say, "Sorry, I got you to click even though I feel toward ad extensions an emotion a mere 10 percent short of hatred."

Like a "Get Rich With Real Estate Seminar"

Like those seminars that tell you how to spend all your time buying undervalued homes and flipping them or renting them out, there are endless touted benefits to ad extensions, and there is an eerie consensus as to how awesome they are.

Back in the day, people had the time or inclination to track down a Google scientist or outside heat-map expert to talk about elements of the search engine user experience. Now, it seems, we’re reduced to shifty statements like my friend Melissa Mackey’s point six: "One really cool thing about sitelinks is that most searchers can’t tell the difference between PPC sitelinks and organic sitelinks." Really?

I’ve been guilty of similar myself, undoubtedly.

Evolution in SERP Layouts…Fueled by Big Data

I understand, in part, why ad extensions emerged. It’s a slightly different line of reasoning from why multifaceted search results pages replaced the ol’ 10 blue links, but it runs in parallel. On the organic side, 10 blue links wasn’t only boring, it didn’t respond well to the fact that users might be searching for different information classes. If the intent suggests they’re probably searching for news, a video, or an article by a trusted author, juggle the results to put the right information classes on the page, in a visually interesting layout.

For now, the ad space does only a mediocre job of sorting intent into commercial intent classes. But we are witnessing some major attempts to do just that, such as the ascent of Product Listing Ads (PLAs).

Extensions related to local businesses, too, offer a powerful way for Google and advertisers to work together to serve up more appropriate page content in light of a user’s probable intent. And when it comes to click-to-call extensions, Google has created a powerful tool to help us better attribute call-generated leads.

Ad extension innovation is facilitated by Big Data. The genius of today’s SERP page layouts is partly in the ability of the search engines to learn conclusively about user preferences for different ways of displaying relevant listings by testing new ideas against a massive global user base. This has led to what feels like a rapid series of innovations in the SERP space. The search engines may actually be throttling their pace of innovation, just so our innately conservative heads won’t explode.

Despite the iterative goodness, as a general trend, it feels like the motivation behind extensions is twofold: (a) benefitting Google and advertisers alike via a Putin-like pretext for expanding our borders, i.e. grabbing more screen real estate in relation to less lucrative organic search click-throughs; (b) giving deserving businesses various means to stand out from the pack.

Great! But is it possible that there is ever a dark side to something that makes an unholy alliance of major stakeholders more money in the short term? Let’s see.



Andrew Goodman

Goodman is founder and President of Toronto-based Page Zero Media, a full-service marketing agency founded in 2000. Page Zero focuses on paid search campaigns as well as a variety of custom digital marketing programs. Clients include Direct Energy, Canon, MIT, BLR, and a host of others. He is also co-founder of Traffick.com, an award-winning industry commentary site; author of Winning Results with Google AdWords (McGraw-Hill, 2nd ed., 2008); and frequently quoted in the business press. In recent years he has acted as program chair for the SES Toronto conference and all told, has spoken or moderated at countless SES events since 2002. His spare time eccentricities include rollerblading without kneepads and naming his Japanese maples. Also in his spare time, he co-founded HomeStars, a consumer review site with aspirations to become "the TripAdvisor for home improvement." He lives in Toronto with his wife Carolyn.

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