ComScore just released its February U.S search engine rankings, which show a 4% decline in search query volume. The interesting thing is that the only site with an increase in query volume was Facebook; however, I think that has more to do with the addition of so many users, their addiction to games like Farmville, and the fact that too many people are unemployed and simply have nothing better to do. Contrary to the report, paid search campaigns continue to improve, and month over month declines are really to be expected from January to February. The important thing for paid search advertisers is that most are doing better year over year.
Although query volume was down, Google has been producing new opportunities for paid search advertisers to improve efficiency, which coincidentally will improve their own revenues.
The most notable is Google Site Links. This beta allows advertisers to place additional text links underneath their branded paid search ads. These links can then direct users to various pages within the site. This is great for paid search as it is improving click rates significantly. As click rates improve, Google stands to make more click revenue. The only problem with this is the cost to organic traffic. If you have competitors bidding on your branded terms, then you may actually be capturing a greater share of total clicks, and Site Links may be quite valuable for you; however, advertisers participating in this beta owe it to themselves to evaluate whether or not they are paying for traffic they would have already received through their organic result. Basically, we now have an additional layer added into the great debate on bidding on branded keywords.
Next up is the Google Product Plus Box. It has been around for a while now, but ecommerce advertisers should be eager to get in on this one. This feature integrates your paid search ads, both brand and general terms, with your Google Base Feed, and gives searchers the opportunity to view products before clicking through to your site. Once the user expands the plus box, the real estate your ad receives on the page triples. Although the products served are not 100% relevant yet, the majority of the time they are.
Then we have Google Product Listings Ad, another beta that allows the Google Affiliate Network (GAN) to serve images in the search results produced from your Google Base Feed. The advantage to this one is the ability to double-serve in a Google-approved manner. On many shopping-driven search queries, you can see these ads in the top right of results. They contain an image, a price, a headline and the advertiser's name.
A search for HP laptops is a terrific example of these new features all in play. Once the Product Plus Box is expanded underneath HP's Site Links, HP owns the page above the fold. There are also Product Listing Ads to the right from HP resellers, Walmart and Office Max. Check these new features out and see if they work for you.