Paid listings standards are hardly universal. The conclusion of a two-part review of commonalities and differences between the two major services: Overture and Google.
Ad Copy Relevance
The search engines’ quest for relevance is reflected in ad copy guidelines, but they differ on what ad copy is relevant.
Overture emphasizes copy should be relevant to terms an ad appears for. Guidelines state: “The title and description must accurately describe why the Web site qualifies for the search term.”
Google‘s guidelines stress ad copy must be relevant to the landing page, not necessarily the search term: “Your ad text must directly reflect the content on the Web page to which your ad links.”
Naturally, Overture also cares how relevant a landing page is in relation to an ad’s search term, and Google cares how relevant copy is in relationship to the terms it appears for. The difference is how the companies prioritize copy relevance.
Why? Two major reasons. Overture is term-oriented while Google is campaign-oriented. At Overture, you select terms to bid on, then link ads to those terms. Initially, everything revolves around the terms. Overture finds the system effective.
Google considers an ad’s message — a campaign, so to speak. You can link an ad (or a campaign of several ads) to a variety of terms. Google says this works best when terms used in a campaign are highly related.
The second, more important, reason for different priorities is Google makes use of click-through metrics to determine which ads can run. An ad in Google AdWords’s top position failing to get a 0.5 percent click-through rate on Google — or 1 percent if on Google and a partner such as AOL — can be dropped (the rate is lower for other positions). Google leverages users to help determine if an ad is relevant. If it’s not, the ad disappears.
“We have two filters, the human editorial filter [Google’s paid listings staff] as well as the democracy of the Web test, the click-through rate filter,” said Sheryl Sandberg, director of Google AdWords sales and operations..
“We try to get our clients to use their search terms in their title and/or description, but it is not a hard-and-fast rule. We certainly would not want to reject a relevant site simply because they did not use the exact term. If the site offers toner and is bidding on toner, then I want that site in our search listings,” Dana Baker, Overture’s editor in chief, said.
Ad Copy Formatting
A major difference between Overture and Google is ad format. Both require titles, but Google allows only 25 characters compared to Overture’s 40. Both also require ads to have descriptions, but differences here are greater still.
Overture allows descriptions up to 190 characters. Google limits them to 70 characters and requires advertisers to manually break descriptions into two lines, each no longer than 35 characters.
Overture and Google have rules governing punctuation, symbols, and capitalization in copy, which can be easily summarized: Punctuate for grammar, not visual appeal.. Use symbols and capitalization when required by commonly accepted style guidelines, not as a way to make your ad stand out.
The temptation to misuse punctuation, symbols, and capitalization can be strong. Everyone wants his ad to be seen. Remember, paid listings are not banners or images. They’re meant to be read. The more readable the ad, the more acceptable it is to users.
A reader complained Overture rejected this description:
No more searching through an entire area code, one ISP at a time — go straight to the best ISP values in your city. Searchable database includes user ratings.
At issue was “the best” next to “ISP values.” Overture changed it to “great ISP values.”
“Great” is as much marketing language as “best,” isn’t it? Not quite. “Best” is a superlative. It suggests something is better than all others. In the example above, saying “the best ISP values” suggests all other ISPs are inferior.
Google and Overture aren’t comfortable when advertisers pronounce themselves better than anyone else. Take declarations down a notch. Use adjectives that allow the possibility that others are as good as you.
“You can’t declare a victory, but you can imply that you are good,” said Alana Karen, policy specialist for Google AdWords.
I know, you really are best! Failing third-party verification, neither company allows superlatives in ads.
If a third party did rank you tops, however, you can say that in ads on Google, but not Overture. An example of what Google permits might be:
Zebra pages raise traffic. Rated best
zebra page maker by PC Super Compute.
Google’s Special Ad Copy Rules
Google has a number of additional copy restrictions.
If you say “free,” you must give something away for free. But even this apparently crystal-clear rule has nuances.
A “buy one, get one free” offer must be specified in an ad. An AOL offer of 100 free hours wouldn’t need to be qualified, because you really can get free hours without obligation, Google says.
Google wants the landing page to clearly indicates what’s “free” when users arrive. They shouldn’t hunt for the offer. Shipping is excepted — you needn’t make this clear on the product page.
Overture doesn’t spell out rules on “free” pertaining to copy but rather as a term you might bid on. Assume you want an ad to appear for the term “free email.” Ensure you do offer free email.
Google also restricts “universal calls-to-action,” language that tells a user to do something, such as, “Click here.” But every good ad should have a call to action, right?
Google agrees. You should have a call to action, but it shouldn’t be “universal” or “generic.” It should be specific. “Buy DVDs now!” and “Savings on DVDs here” are OK.
Google doesn’t want words such as “welcome to,” “online,” “Web site,” and “home page” in an ad’s title. They’re considered so common as to convey little meaning. You can use them if essential to describing your product, such as, “Web site hosting” or “online training service.”
Overture’s Special Web Site Rules
Overture’s guidelines apply to different types of sites. Adult sites, gambling sites, non-U.S. sites, and real estate sites are some of those named.
Of particular note are new rules about sites outside the United States. Previously, non-U.S., English-language sites had to note this in ads. Now, if you sell products that are expensive to ship, Overture may want you to note your location. In other situations, it’s not necessary.
Pop-Ups and Back Buttons
It’s possible to “disable” the back button in a browser, so visitors cannot use it to leave a site. Overture and Google find this unacceptable — on the landing page or any other page on your site.
Their pop-up policies differ. Overture says your site may spawn one pop-up, which cannot appear below the page viewed (in other words, a pop-under).
Google just says no to pop-ups. You can’t run ads linking to a page that generates them. You can have them on other pages, but ads cannot direct to those pages.
Are These Sites Exceptional?
Having covered many of the guidelines, let me anticipate a flood of reader email citing exceptions.
No exclamation points at Overture? What about this ad I found last week?
Best Online Casinos (97.5% Payouts!)
Link to the 10 best online casinos! $25-$110 in sign-up bonuses. Payout percentages of over 97.5 for all casinos listed.
No all caps, says Google. And only one exclamation mark. But what’s this?
TOP 30 ONLINE CASINOS!
WE ONLY LIST THE BEST CASINOS!!
OVER $1000 IN FREE CHIPS!!
Overture says guidelines changed over time, creating legacy listings in its database. Customer service folks are monitoring these and cleaning them up.
As for Google AdWords, it says an all-caps ad can happen because ads can run instantly. They’re checked soon after by editorial staff. If guidelines are violated, ads are pulled.
Duplicates are another violation you might see. Both search engines say an advertiser should only appear once per term. Through accident or attempt, duplicate ads get through. Both companies police this, aided by advertisers. “They’re our best tattletales,” says Baker.
Conclusion: Guidelines, Not Laws
Overture and Google’s guidelines emphasize “guide.” They’re intended to guide advertisers in creating and running relevant ads. Guidelines can be altered for the right reasons.
“Guidelines are not rules, and we have to constantly be changing and listening to our advertisers to see if we are doing the right thing,” said Baker. “With this many listings and this many advertisers, having one-size-fits-all guidelines doesn’t always work.”
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