Are Ads Really Just Answers? Google's Billion-Dollar Idea


The official Google blog published a post earlier this week with the title “Ads Are Just Answers” – and I couldn’t help mentally inserting the addendum, “…that make us billions, suckers!” Let’s not forget that Google makes upwards of 97% of its revenue from advertising – that’s over $32 billion in advertising revenues annually.

Sponsored placement in the search results may be a billion-dollar idea, but it wasn’t actually Google’s idea. The credit goes to Bill Gross of Idealab, who got the idea from the Yellow Pages. Supposedly, Google tried and failed to buy the idea, so they copied it, launching AdWords in 2000 (Gross took legal action).

People turn to search engines because they want answers. And according to Google, AdWords ads are just another way for people to get answers:

We’re developing ads that provide richer information to you because we believe that search ads should be both beautiful and informative, and as useful to you as an answer. 

These richer, more beautiful and more informative ad formats that VP of Product Management Nick Fox is referring to, by the way, are ad extensions – and wouldn’t you know it, our local PPC hero Tom Demers just put the wraps on The Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords Ad Extensions, so if you want to know more about making your own PPC ads more “beautiful and informative,” check out his posts on sitelinks, product extensions, location extensions and call extensions.

But bringing it back to the topic at hand: This post got me thinking about the interesting position we’re in – “we” being search marketers – with regards to Google, with all of the following being true:

  • We recognize that paid search advertising offers value, and that’s why we exploit this marketing channel ourselves.
  • If you sell Google PPC software or services, you probably benefit from the system in two ways – you use it to get new clients and you use it to serve your existing clients.
  • At the same time, we are cynical of the moves Google makes  in regards to AdWords, because we know it’s trying to maximize revenue from the system; this may be against our best interests as advertisers
  • As users of Google, we also question the system, because we know more about it than the average user, and are more capable of recognizing sponsored ads for what they are despite changes in formatting and their creeping domain. And clicking a bad ad may not cost us money, but we do lose time and patience.

When Google says ads are just answers, I take it with a grain of salt. Usually, the majority of the ads in a SERP don’t help me. I always favor organic results over ads, unless I want to buy something and the product results seem to giving me just what I’m looking for. The problem is, there’s often a disconnect between what the ad promises and what I get when I click. I hate when an ad appears to be specific (probably because it’s making use of dynamic keyword insertion) but takes me to a general landing page and not the exact page I want. For example, in a search for “black cropped pants,” this ad seems to deliver what I’m looking for:

Specific PPC Ad

But after clicking, I get taken to the category page for pants – I have to scroll around looking to see if they actually carry any cropped black pants.

Landing Page

I encounter this problem a lot with paid search ads. But the fact remains, ads can make good answers. The question is, how, as an advertiser, do you make sure your ads are providing useful answers and not just cluttering up the SERP with clickable distractions that make Google more millions (some percentage of which comes from your pocket)?

In the end, it all comes down to relevance. But in order to be relevant to a searcher, you have to know what they want in the first place – and that isn’t easy.

More Web Marketing Highlights

Wondering why the heck you’re not ranking in Google News? Search Engine Land lists the top 10 negative rankings factors, including duplicate content, vague headlines and no Google News sitemap. (Here are the top 10 positive ranking factors.)

So you’ve got the traffic part covered. But is anyone converting? If not, you’ve got some reading to do: Kristi Hines has collected 50+ awesome posts on conversion rate optimization.

Yay, Sitelinks! Or, nay Sitelinks? Melissa Mackey points out nine not-so-great things about this ad extension feature.

You know why it’s good to get incoming links. But why would you want to link out? Jonathan Stray at Neiman Journalism Lab lists four good reasons.

James Zolman thinks Quality Scores are underrated. (We tend to agree.)

Christina Jones at BlueGlass outlines a Dale Carnegie-approved approach to blogger outreach. If you’re too young to catch that reference, Dale Carnegie wrote How to Make Friends and Influence People, and the (dirty) secret to the book is, you have to actually care.

Have a good weekend, all.

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Oct 07, 2011

lol on the "answers…that make us billions, suckers!”

Richard Kraneis
Oct 07, 2011

Elisa, Have a great weekend to you also. At least now I know what "black cropped pants" are (my daughter will be so impressed with my new found knowledge). As for Google PPC ads that land on generic pages allow me to retell a story I may have shared before here or elsewhere. Once I was reading in a lunchroom when two middle aged ladies (part of the janitorial staff) were discussing Google.

I hate it when I click on something in Google and don't get what I want.
  I'm pretty sure she was talking about Google PPC ads.  Apparently the designers of Google PPC ads and landing pages don't spend much time in the company lunchroom. Again, have a great weekend. Richard

Oct 09, 2011

Elisa,Great post. I'm hoping that as the channel gets even more competitive than it already is in the long tail, advertisers try harder to provide real answers to queries. You're spot on w/ your assessment that ads are weak in that arena. :)Also, Thanks a ton for the mention!

Elisa Gabbert
Oct 10, 2011

You're welcome, and thanks for your comment!

Nick Stamoulis
Oct 13, 2011

So many paid search advertisers still just don't get it.  The page that they direct visitors to should always be the most relevant page to the ad.  Simply dropping them on a generic page or the homepage means that they need to go searching through the site.  Since they know what they want, make it easier for them to find it. 

Elisa Gabbert
Oct 13, 2011

And it's much easier to hit the back button than start over with a new search -- since that's what I went to Google for in the first place!Thanks for your comment Nick!

Internet Marketing St Louis
Oct 21, 2011

The ads have got to link to relevant content based on what the specific ad was for.  This is another example of people just not getting it, and not using PPC ads to their fullest.  I appreciate all the links to the other great posts, Elisa - thanks!

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