Ch-Ch-Changes! How to Deal with Recent Flux in Google Rankings, AdWords Settings


Color me not surprised at all: I get back from vacation to find that Google has announced yet another change that seems designed to increase profits in Mountain View, not improve results for advertisers.

Ad Rotation Wears Out its Welcome

On Tuesday, Google announced that the ad rotation setting will only be available for 30 days. As Larry wrote earlier this week:

Using the "rotate" setting for Ad Rotation is helpful for A/B testing of ads – especially because the automated "optimize for clicks" and "optimize for conversions" ad delivery options have a tendency to declare a winner rather early, particularly for small and medium sized advertisers … As usual, Google claims that the change is to improve the system for both advertisers and users.

Once again it seems that Google is trying to enforce a one-size-fits-all approach to AdWords accounts. As Kristin Pribble commented on Larry’s post (emphases mine):

This will make it even more difficult to conduct an accurate A/B test - especially for small to medium sized accounts. There are adgroups that don't have enough data after 30 days to declare a winning ad text. It's even more frustrating that Google isn't giving advertisers a choice to decide what works best for their account.

Alan Mitchell has outlined exactly how these changes will benefit Google at the expense of advertisers in a post on Search Engine People. True PPC nerds will want to check out all the graph porn and follow the exact calculations, but here’s a high-level overview of what Alan’s post communicates:

  • There’s a point after which clicks cost you more than you make (i.e., where cost per click, or CPC, exceeds revenue per click, or RPC)
  • Profits (for the advertiser) are maximized where the marginal CPC meets the marginal RPC
  • Google’s “improvement” to exact and phrase match means that revenue per click becomes an average of multiple keywords (close variants, plurals and so forth), and some of those keywords (which are outside your control) might have different levels of advertiser competition and conversion rate
  • This change tends to reduce profits for the advertiser, even at the same click volume, while increasing Google’s profits from those clicks: “Google has essentially increased the average CPC, without increasing the average CPC. Very clever.”

In sum (emphases mine):

By rolling out their 'improvements' to exact and phrase match, Google has essentially removed the opportunity for PPC advertisers to take advantages of differences in CPCs caused by varying levels of competition of closely related keywords, and removed the opportunity for PPC advertisers to take advantage of differences in revenue caused by varying conversion rates of closely related keywords.

Instead of being able to set higher bids for high-performing variants, and lower bids for poor-performing variants, with this new feature PPC advertisers can now only set one bid for the entire group of keyword variants. The opportunity to take advantage of differences between close variants is now removed, and Google's revenue increases as a result.

Kind of a dick move, Google.

Luckily, you can opt out of these changes, though they will become the new default. For now, you can keep running your exact and phrase-match keywords the way you were running them before, if you’re aware of the changes and know to alter your settings.

For more on this change, see Martin Roettgerding’s tips on predicting the impact of “exactish match” using your search query report. 

Penguin Is the New Panda

PenguinThe algorithm change that SEOs internally dubbed the “OOPS” update (for over-optimization penalty) has been given an official name, which seems designed to confuse everyone: the Penguin update. The two are related – both Penguin and Panda, aside from being adorable zoo animals, are designed to reduce spam and other low-quality sites in the SERPs.

Has your site been affected by the Penguin update? Are you worried that it might be in the future? Here’s more information on preparing and/or recovering from Penguin:

Penguins, Pandas, and Panic at the Zoo – Dr. Pete reviews the changes, the impact, what to do and what not to do in the wake of the update.

Penguin 1.0 Initial Findings – Unnatural Inbound Links Heavily Targeted, Other Webspam Tactics Await Penalty? – Glenn Gabe takes a look at some of the tactics that seem to have been penalized by Penguin and makes some recommendations and closing points. (Note: You can’t file a request to have your site reconsidered. If your rankings have dropped, you’ve been penalized algorithmically, not manually.)

Google Penguin Update Recovery Tips & Advice – Danny Sullivan goes over some of the main talking points and questions whether this update has helped or hurt searchers and small businesses – more on that here: “Did Penguin Make Google’s Search Results Better Or Worse?”

The Google Penguin Update: Over-Optimization, Webspam, & High Quality Empty Content Pages – Aaron Wall points out that this update has seemingly affected a huge number of sites, given the number of complaints and the petition to stop it. He also calls attention to some of the weirder results of the change, such as no longer ranking for its branded search, and an empty blogspot site coming up #1 for “make money online.”

Penguin Pain and Forward Planning – Luke Masters at Distilled explains how to assess the damage to your own site and lists some key points to check, especially surrounding links (link velocity, quality of linking sites, etc.).

Did your rankings and/or traffic drop as a result of the Penguin? Have you noticed any funny business in the SERPs?

More Web Marketing Highlights

I saw a few interesting posts this week about the effects of social activity on search results, including:

AJ Kohn on “Social Echo,” or the aftereffects of social sharing: “In truth, it’s not about those specific Tweets, Shares, +1s and Likes. It’s the echo of those events that is meaningful. It’s the fact that someone sees that Tweet, goes and reads your content, finds it valuable and then decides to save, comment, share or link to it.”

Bill Slawski on PostRank, which Google acquired last year as part of its strategy to “move towards looking at more social signals for the potential ranking of content shared by others.”

Wil Wheaton is pissed that Google is forcing YouTube viewers to G+ videos instead of just giving them the thumbs up or down that was native to YouTube for years. (It looks like it was a test versus a permanent change.)

Have a good weekend, folks.

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Steve Downing
May 10, 2012

Elisa -Yes. The Big G is changing the game. Here'a some questions for you. I think all of us are thinking about this stuff, especially the small details and especially now that Google is changing our ability to locate and develop niches. If anyone can answer this, we'll all benefit! Is it more effective, from a Google ranking perspective, for my domain name to exactly match a highly searched, exactly-worded keyword phrase compared to a domain name that only contains that keyword and also contains other keywords? For example, for the keyword "coffee" - would be ranked any different than if both websites were identical in all other ways? In regard to domain extensions other than ".com," such as ".biz," ".us," et al, would rank any higher than or and so on if all websites were identical? I have several domain names on GoDaddy that are forwarded to another hosting service. All six of these websites,registered with GoDaddy, are forwarded to webpages that are hosted on Yahoo! Small Business, under the hosting space. is forwarded to is forwarded to is forwarded to is forwarded to is forwarded to is forwarded to Are domain names that contain exact keyword phrases useful and effective in regard to improved Google ranking only when the domain and the webpages that are in that domain are together on the same hosting platform? In other words, if I submit the GoDaddy URL to Google, will it consider the GoDaddy-URL-domain-name or will it consider the name of the webpage that it is forwarded to? And, if I make the webpage name match the domain name, is that as effective as when the domain and the webpages that are in that domain are together on the same hosting platform? Best, Steve Downing 

Elisa Gabbert
May 11, 2012

Hi Steve,According to our friend Tom:So redirecting a domain name with no history for an exact match won't really help outside of type-in-traffic in my experience (I haven't done a dedicated test but I've seen some instances where people had exact matches redirected to other domains and didn't rank at all for the redirected exact match, for instance) and actually some of the latest updates really aggressively penalized whole sites being 301'd (if you saw the stuff with SEER Interactive not ranking for their name for a while this was what happened it looked like).Also Matt Cutts has explicitly said that if they find that a given TLD is spam-heavy they give less weight to that domain; specifically because .info domains are less expensive they weight those less heavily than others. In terms of getting a boost for coffee I think there's definitely an exact match bonus but they probably dial it up or down depending ( but having that domain obviously makes it a lot easier to have links with coffee in the anchor without them seeming over-aligned than if your domain is course, the best way to get an answer is to test it. :)

May 14, 2012

Good "state of the union" article Elisa.Of the latest 'updates', the changes to ad rotation are the most frustrating for me. I do a lot of work with SMBs and, like your quote above mentioned, sometimes you simply haven't gotten enough data back in 30 days to conduct a meaningful split test.Alas, GOOG has made it obvious more than once that they aren't in the biz of making advertisers happy. I have some ideas for how to adapt... but the need to adapt is a frustration I would have liked to avoid.

Elisa Gabbert
May 14, 2012

Thanks Brandon. It certainly is frustrating!

Penguin Update
Jul 23, 2012

Great post with enriching information! I had some simliar concerns to the process of adapting to the new update. It is becoming more difficult to gain domain authority as well as finding options to adjust. It is not a shock that Google's revenue increased due to thier decision of setting one bid for PPC advertisers. They are in the business to make money and solidify their position as the number one search engine. It is wonderful to see people sharing their stories. Their stories can be used as a reference to adjust to the penguin update . There is quite an adruous journey ahead of site owners and advertisers. Thank you for this post. 

Aug 11, 2014

I agree with Steve's comments there I think actually was a time when your best keyword usedas your site's name actually did raise its postion with Google.Google these days has nowcottoned on to that idea and downgraded it.Having said that though I do belive Matt Cutts hassaid it would be advantageous if you websites name was relevant to the subject it is covering.

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