What Else Are You Telling Google When You Hit the Search Button?

Paid search is an incredibly effective marketing channel because the user explicitly tells the advertiser what she is looking for. The searcher’s query is matched to an advertiser’s keyword, enabling that advertiser to deliver a specific response to the declared need.

However, the search query itself isn’t all that Google takes into account when determining which ads to show. Every time a user performs a search, she is also sending additional information along with her query, whether she knows it or not.

Device, location, and past behavior are just a few of the secondary signals leveraged by Google to improve customer experience. Savvy marketers can further target their advertising by understanding and utilizing these signals.

Target by Device

While Google’s Enhanced Campaigns update drastically changes the device targeting options available to advertisers, the searcher’s device type (computer/tablet/smartphone) and operating system are still factored into ad serving. Quality Score (and thus cost-per-click charged to advertisers) is calculated separately by device for each keyword. AdWords’ reporting still allows advertisers to segment all performance metrics by device.

For an advertiser leveraging app extensions to link her ad, Google ensures that the correct version of the app shows up based on the device’s operating system (Android or iOS). Advertisers can also designate ad copy and extensions as “mobile preferred” in Enhanced Campaigns. Those ads will be shown in response to searches on a smartphone.

Target by Location

Google is extremely adept at determining a user’s location, and advertisers can leverage this secondary signal in two ways.

If an advertiser is targeting a large area, she can find additional opportunities by segmenting this audience via AdWords location targeting. By cloning campaigns and targeting high- and low-value geographic locations separately, advertisers can allocate budget differently between these audiences and even provide customized messaging to each.

Enhanced Campaigns also offers new geo-targeting features that allow advertisers to modify keyword bids based on a searcher’s location. Advertisers can even adjust bids based on a searcher’s proximity to a physical location.

Target by Past Behavior

I can’t count how many times I’ve received a panicked email from a client saying, “I’ve been searching all morning, and now suddenly our ads aren’t showing!”

Many advertisers don’t realize this is an intentional and beneficial AdWords feature that keeps low-value impressions from negatively impacting click-through rate. If a searcher repeatedly enters the same query over a short period of time without clicking on an ad, Google assumes that the ads aren’t relevant, and stops showing those ads to that user for a short while.

Google has another similar and often misunderstood feature. If a searcher clicks on an ad and then quickly clicks her browser’s “back” button, Google sees that as an indicator that the ad’s landing page didn’t provide the searcher with what she wanted. An option may appear below the ad, offering the searcher the option to block all ads from that advertiser. Once again, this feature is a benefit for advertisers, removing wasted impressions from uninterested searchers.

Google is currently beta testing Remarketing Lists for Search Ads. This feature allows advertisers to cookie visitors to their site and then leverage this cookie data to later target these visitors when they perform a search on Google. There are many ways advertisers can use this feature, such as serving specialized ads to searchers who have never visited the site or serving different ad copy to searchers who have recently visited but did not convert.

Google has access to an array of additional user information via Google Accounts, but it is utilizing caution about using this data in order to avoid privacy issues. It remains to be seen if and how Google will leverage this opportunity in the coming years. In the meantime, advertisers should ensure they understand and leverage all current secondary signals in their paid search marketing.

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