A Google Trial Ties Ad Position to User Behavior

A Google AdWords experiment that optimizes ads based on individual user behavior could raise rates for advertisers. Search marketing mavens have chattered about the premium listings changes, and now Google has confirmed it is exploring alterations to the way it promotes ads to the top of search listings. Industry insiders agree the move carries on Google’s tradition of adjusting its algorithm to produce more appropriate results for searchers. The system change could also reduce the pool of sponsored link spaces, potentially driving the cost of coming out on top.

Some search marketers have noticed recently that after refreshing a Google results page around five to ten times, the premium sponsored links at the top of the listings in the blue shaded area disappear or move to the page’s right side text ad section.

Google confirmed Friday it is indeed tinkering its premium AdWords positioning based on user clicks – or the lack thereof. Explained Google spokesperson Michael Mayzel, “In this instance, we are exploring changes to the way we promote ads to the top of the search page. This is designed to further ensure that users will find ads only when they’re most useful and advertisers will receive the most qualified leads. With this improvement, users may see more prominent ads if they are currently showing interest in ads and less prominent ads otherwise.”

The trial is “philosophically an extension” of Google’s quest to “adapt to users’ preferences,” commented Greg Sterling, founding principal of local search consulting company Sterling Market Intelligence. Google’s ability to dynamically respond to user intent is what fascinates him most, he told ClickZ News.

When conducting a Google search on “Web hosting,” iProspect Director of Paid Search Ben Perry noticed three premium listings featured atop organic results. After refreshing the page about ten times, those listings dropped from the premium blue-highlighted spot to the right side of the results page. The general assumption is that Google is removing the premium ads when users show a history of ignoring them. At this point, not all users are experiencing the same shifts in ad delivery.

The way Perry sees it, through its personalized results experiment, Google is asking “if [they] take the ads away from people who don’t want them, does that make a better user experience?”

He concurred with others interviewed for this story that, if made a permanent Google function, altering ad placement according to individual user behavior will not have a big impact on most advertisers. However, higher conversion rates could result if the search firm concentrates ad serving on those users perceived as qualified leads, i.e. those who show a history of clicking certain ads. “The people who are going to notice an increase in conversions or conversion rate are [direct marketers],” said Perry, adding, “Any way [Google] can make the people who click more predisposed to taking action, the more [advertisers] will be willing to pay for [the ads].”

Peter Hershberg, managing partner at search marketing firm Reprise Media, doesn’t expect his company to make any adjustments to the way it implements search campaigns for clients based on the Google changes. He tested Google’s trial by searching on his company’s name. Sure enough, after refreshing the page about five times and not clicking on Reprise’s premium sponsored link, the ad moved to the right of the page. “I don’t think it’s a concern from an advertising or marketing standpoint,” said Hershberg.

“This is a continuation in the way Google’s done their quality score algorithm,” he added. The Google quality score uses text ad relevance, historical keyword performance, landing page quality and other factors to determine ad placement. Yahoo’s new Panama search ad platform takes into consideration similar factors to rank text ads.

Not only do adjustments like this one improve user experience, asserted Sterling, “It’s something that motivates marketers to write better [ad] copy.”

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