Google Ad Sitelinks: Facing Up To The Challenges
Google claims that using ad extensions can greatly enhance click-through rate and ad engagement. In the case of ad sitelinks, for instance, Google claims that advertisers can realize a 30% improvement in CTR, and my own testing with clients has shown that to be true as well, with advertisers recognizing a 25%-30% bump in CTR.
While ad sitelinks provide advertisers with additional ways to gain both visibility and clicks from their ads, what are the challenges of using ad sitelinks -- and how can you address them?
Challenge 1: They Don't Show Consistently or Often Enough
One of the greatest challenge in using ad extensions is that they aren't always generated with your ad and don't appear as often as you might like. Part of the problem is that Google's quality score expectation can be pretty high to display certain ad extensions, like ad sitelinks. Google requires a high quality score on the ad itself to show ad sitelinks (possibly as high as 7/10). Additionally, the ad must appear in above the organic results, meaning that it typically must be in the top three ad positions, minimum. Also, Google requires that the destination URLs for the sitelinks point to a page within the website itself - not necessarily a separate landing page.
The solution here is all about quality score, which can be a tough nut to crack. Follow best practices in quality score to ensure you optimize it as best possible. Since the sitelink destination URLs need to point to pages within your website itself, be sure that your website has a clear path to conversion. Consider adding a form or highly visible button to each page of your website to make the conversion path clear, which in turn may also help increase conversions of organic search visitors.
Challenge 2: Consistency in Content
One other challenge of ad extensions is the consistency in the content that's showing in your ad. In the case of ad sitelinks, for instance, advertisers can enter up to ten sitelinks for an ad, in order of preferred priority. Then Google chooses up to four sitelinks to show with the ad. However, Google may not use your sitelinks in the priority you requested.
Because you, as the advertiser, do not know exactly which ad sitelinks were shown, it's challenging to test various sitelinks (and versions of sitelink copy) to see which generate the highest conversion rate.
While we can't necessarily force Google to change its ways and allow advertisers more control over the consistency of how the ad extensions are displayed, we can still do some basic testing using Google Analytics and destination URL tagging. You still won't be able to tell which sitelink has the highest CTR because Google only shows impression and CTR statistics for the full set of sitelinks, not individual ones. Nor will you know exactly what order the sitelinks were in, so you won't be able to tell if one sitelink position performs better than another.
However, you can at least measure conversion rate by appending each ad sitelink with a unique variable appended to the end, such as http://www.abc.com/?sitelink=def. Here's how:
1. After you've tagged each of your ad sitelinks with a unique URL variable, create a custom report in Google AdWords.
2. In your custom report, choose campaigns as the top level dimension, then landing page as the drill down dimension. This will allow you to examine data specific to each campaign. Select unique page views as the metric and save the report.
3. When viewing the report, under advanced segments, choose paid search traffic and visits with conversions.
4. Finally, click on an individual campaign to drill down and see the landing pages for that campaign and their conversion metrics.
If you use a backend CRM system or other type of tracking, such as Salesforce.com, Eloqua, or other marketing automation, ecommerce or CRM tools, you should also capture the variable and put it into the conversion record in that system. This way, you can see directly through reports in those systems as well as gauge the effectiveness of sitelinks on conversion, which ultimately is the most important metric to most advertisers.
Is It All Worth It?
Anything that can help you extend your visibility in a sea of advertisers is, in my opinion, worth trying. And since ad sitelinks don't cost any more but can help you generate a higher CTR, you should definitely give them a try. Just be aware that there are challenges to ad sitelink serving and measurement -- and accommodate as you can.