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The Battle for AdWords

In February, Google changed the way the Adwords Pay-Per-Click program appeared on its search engine results page and many feared that the change would be detrimental to small business advertisers.

But a panel of digital advertising experts said there is still room for small business — if the marketing plan is sharp enough.

It is hard to believe that until 1998, when Google came online, research was completed by using books and periodicals found at the local library. By the year 2000, Google had become the leading search engine and started selling pay-per-click advertising.

Today, Google dominates the industry.

Before February, whenever you searched a topic on Google, three paid advertisements would appear at the top of the search, and five paid ads would appear in a column on the right-hand side of the page. After February, the ads that used to appear down the right-hand side were moved to the bottom of the organic search results, and an extra fourth paid ad was made available at the top of the page.

“Part of Googles reasoning for removing the right side ad space is because the top four ads generated 85 percent of the clicks,” said Don Cramer, founder of Rocket 36 Development Studio, a firm that specializes in website design and internet advertising.

The other part of the reason for change is the fact that most searches are completed using a smartphone or tablet, and the small screens do not lend themselves to a two column format.

“The changes Google has made will ultimately make it easier for the way we buy media for our clients,” said Chuck Johnston, president and principal of B &P Advertising. “Historically, we’ve seen a large drop-off in performance after the first and second position of the ads at the top of the page.”

And most others in the industry agree.

“I think the change made the SERP cleaner, so the top ads stick out a bit more,” said Kristy Kroll, owner of Graduate Media, a digital marketing agency, and former AdWords trainer.

“Even though there was a lot of anxiety over this change when it was first announced, the overall effect has not been that dramatic,” said Cramer.

“To offset this change, Google will allow advertisers to bid differently on mobile devices versus desktop, which will allow us to create efficiencies and get very tactical when we purchase media for our clients,” added Rob Catalano, executive creative director and principal of B&P Advertising.

“The challenge has always been how to make our clients stand out. The digital advertising industry is constantly evolving and tailoring its platforms to the usage and patterns of consumers. We as advertisers must understand these trends and how they may benefit our clients. As media becomes more fragmented, our agency’s buyers are now cross-trained in traditional and digital media planning and buying to ensure we stay on top of the latest trends and make certain our clients’ dollars are working in a proficient manner,” added Johnson.

In addition to the bidding, Google plans to increase the size of the ads from a 25-character title and two rows of 35-characters each; to a 58-character title and two rows of 80-characters each.

“With the anticipated increase in ad size, we are doing tweaks to build more qualitative ads for our clients,” said Cramer.

“These changes mostly affect the way the ads are written. It was always important to be relevant and have a high-quality score to move to the top of the ad order most economically,” said Luwana Masteller, owner of Vast-Array Advertising Design.

To understand the effect on small businesses, Kroll explains that, “When a user searches for a query, whether it’s the first or a subsequent time, Google runs an auction behind the scenes and picks the best ads for that query. Given a good quality score and ample budget, an ad could show for most searches on that query. However, most smaller advertisers would not show up for each search due to budget and a variety of other reasons. But there are ways to try to counter this and keep performance up, even with a smaller budget.”

Masteller agrees. “It is as it always has been. If you don’t have a big budget, you need to be smart about what you’re doing to reach your target.”

According to Casey Floyd, executive digital director at MassMedia, “The changes have not altered our strategy in placing ads for our clients. Where we’ll focus our effort is efficient bidding by industry. In some cases, the bidding war for those top spots could become so aggressive that we’ll need to strategize shifting funds toward other digital avenues.”

Catalano is also thinking about the strategic use of ad dollars.

“For response, we like to take a deep look at our clients’ goals and initiatives and tailor our media channels and spending in a very strategic way. With Google being the No. 1 search engine within the U.S., we see strong numbers that drive bottom line results for our clients. Aside from search, we also employ several other tactics within the digital space, and continuously measure and optimize as the campaigns run in order to drive the best results for the most efficient prices.”

Regardless of the effect, everyone agrees that Google is the place to be and be seen. “Google is still the main search engine driving most organic search referrals for my clients, followed by Bing, then Yahoo,” said Masteller. “Good to note that referral traffic from social media and specialty interest sites are usually between Google and Bing.”

However, Floyd noted that “We have seen excellent results on YouTube. It is completely different from the pay-per-click model and has proven to be efficient for a brand awareness strategy. We never expect the click results that we may otherwise get through Google, but it is a viable alternative for impressions from search queries.”

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