Online advertisers used to be able to get away with taking a throw enough mud and some of it will stick approach to targeting their display ads. This may well have squeezed out some modest successes for big-spending advertisers – but most of us would agree it made the web a worse place.
Thankfully, it looks like those days are dead and gone, as the web’s biggest advertising sellers Google have announced a raft of changes designed to make advertisers care more about the online ad experience they provide.
In this article, we’re going to talk through these updates and how you can respond to them. By the bottom of the page, we intend for you to be able to take a well-informed, proactive look at the experience your ads are giving.
Google Ads & Quality Scores
Those of you who advertise through Google’s PPC advertising service, AdWords, will already be familiar with quality scores – which in an AdWords context are 1-10 scores, generated through analysis of the following aspects of your landing pages:
- Expected click-through rate
- Landing page experience
- Ad relevance
The first of these is a measure of the quality of the ad itself, and its relevance to your chosen AdWords campaign keywords; the second gauges the quality of the webpage your ad links through to; and the third measures how relevant the ad is to the landing page.
Together, these measures create a quality score for the entire Ad experience – from when web users first see your Ad to when they do things on your website having clicked through.
AdWords advertisers have two good reasons to strive to improve their quality score:
- It lowers their cost-per-click
- It improves their ad positions
What this all means is that AdWords is an unprecedentedly meritocratic ad space provider. There’s a good reason for this: historically, most online ads have not been good enough.
The rise of Display ad-blocking
According to PageFair, 22% of US web users aged 25-34 currently use a display ad-blocker. This figure is echoed by similar findings worldwide.
As many of you will know, ad-blockers are browser extensions which prevent display ads from rendering in your browser window. Their very existence is proof that for many web users, online display ads are more of a burden than a blessing.
Some ad-blockers are getting smarter, providing new levels of filtering so that users can choose which types of ad they’re happy to see.
On the other side of the coin, web developers are getting better at creating solutions to stop ad-blocker users from accessing their sites – until they pause their ad blocker.
Here’s what Forbes had to say about it when we visited their site with our ad-blocker turned on:
Google’s response to the Display ad quality problem
We know Google has cared about advert quality for many years, thanks to the AdWords quality score feature. And now it seems the search giant is escalating its drive to encourage advertisers to do better. It’s not something Google have made a big song and dance about, but here at Target Internet, we have been watching with interest as they have separately rolled out multiple new ad quality features and policies over the last few months. Here’s a quick round-up, including some ideas on how advertisers can respond to the changes taking place:
Ad Experience Report
The Ad Experience Report is a new report in Google Webmaster Tools that flags up display ad elements on your website which may irritate or mislead customers.
To submit a site for testing, simply go to web tools in Webmaster Tools, select either ‘Desktop’ or ‘Mobile’ depending on the device type/website version you’re interested in, and add the relevant, verified property. You’ll then get access to a report that highlights any problem ads on your site.
If your site is already verified and linked to your Webmaster Console / Tools account, it’ll take very little time and effort to create an ad experience report by following the steps described above. Once you’ve run your desktop and mobile reports, you’ll know whether there are any ads running on your site that need fixing or removing.
Running an Ad Experience Report now and acting upon any issues that are flagged is a good idea for several reasons. For one thing, it’ll help you weed out ad experiences from your site that people dislike. This can only work wonders for your user experience.
Google is launching their own ad-blocker feature in Chrome
Google has announced it is developing their own ad-filtering technology, which will come pre-installed with the Chrome browser from 2018 onward.
The new feature – which Google is describing as a filter, not a blocker – will stop “annoying ads” from showing up in Chrome. Quality ads that sing to the Google hymn sheet, meanwhile, will be rendered as normal.
Chrome is going to go a step further for people running their own ad blocking software. Chrome will give publishers the option to force a choice: whitelist the site so its non-annoying ads can display or pay a small fee to access the content ad-free. Quite a bold move, but if enough advertisers opt into charging people with ad blockers, it will certainly raise the hassle factor of using an ad blocker. Users who wish to browse a site with approved ads without seeing the adverts will now have to pay a paywall fee.
Google is positioning this new feature as a third way between the “annoying ads” targeted by the filter, and existing ad blockers which “punish everyone” – that’s in the words of Google’s Senior VP of Ads and Commerce, Sridhar Ramaswamy.
Google launching ad-filtering in Chrome is game-changing for all sorts of advertisers. The situation is most pressing for those sites which currently use advertising methods like pop-ups, large sticky ads and auto-playing video ads with sound, all of which look set to be blocked by the new filtering feature on Chrome.
Over half of all web-browsing now takes place on Chrome – which could translate into an awful lot of leads to lose at once for advertisers who haven’t audited their ads before Chrome’s filtering feature launches.
To ensure your site is not at risk, run an Ad Experience Report, as described in the previous section.
You can find information on the types of ad Chrome is going to filter at the Coalition for Better Ads website.
AdSense Native ads provide a less annoying experience
It’s not all stick and no carrot for online advertisers. Google has announced an AdSense update aimed at sites which host ads, designed to make adverts less annoying and more in-tune with your site.
The new feature – or rather, suite of features – is called Native ads, and its purpose is to make sure the ads shown on users’ websites are of the highest quality and the greatest relevance. It brings highly relevant content ads in-line with your own matching content (e.g. a sponsored restaurant ad might get inserted into a list of recipes on a food-themed site). It uses only high-quality imagery and provides editor tools to help you improve compatibility between the ads served and your site.
AdSense Native ads show another side to why ad quality matters: if Google can get enough advertisers to create ads of sufficiently high quality, they might be able to get top webmasters to give up more ad space.
If you use or host online advertising, you would do well to acquaint yourself with the new AdSense Native ad types. You can find information on AdSense Native here, or by signing into your AdSense account.
AdSense Native ads are also worth a look for those of you who don’t currently host ads on your websites but are considering doing so. The new matched content ads are particularly subtle and could represent an excellent opportunity for sites that publish regular content on consistent themes to open up a new revenue stream.
Google is improving display Ad site categories for advertisers
For lots of advertisers, one of the most off-putting things about putting Ads out on Google’s Display Network is that if you don’t configure your campaigns correctly ( which is very time-consuming to do), you lose a lot of control over the websites your ads may appear on. What if your ad pops up alongside some brand-damagingly inappropriate content?
What Display Network does let you do, is control the general categories of a website on which your ads can appear with ease, using their ad site exclusion categories. Earlier this month, Google announced that this feature is being updated, with some ineffective site categories to be removed or edited, and some new categories to be added. We can only assume this will help to give greater control to advertisers.
These changes have already been rolled out for new campaigns, meaning some of the affected Ad Site Exclusion Categories are unavailable to new users. Early next year, advertiser accounts still using the old categories will be automatically moved over to the most approximate new settings.
Here’s a quick summary of the changes:
- “Crime, policy and emergency”, “Military and international conflict” and “Death and tragedy” categories combined into a single category: “Tragedy and conflict”.
- “Sensitive social issues” category added.
- “Content suitable for families” category added.
- Gambling and Error page categories removed.
- Forums, Social networks, Photo-sharing pages, Video-sharing pages categories removed.
The changes to Display Network’s display ad site categories don’t solve some of the fundamental challenges to managing advertising on Display Network, as a minority of ads could still end up rendering in inappropriate places. However, the update does succeed in making the situation a little easier to manage.
If you’re a Display Network advertiser, we recommend you check out Google’s support page on their simplified site categories, so you can make an informed decision on which exclusions to use going forward.
This also represents a good moment to examine which site categories pair best with your brand. For example, it’s all too easy to look at that “Tragedy and conflict” category and run a mile – but when you think about it, perhaps it’s a good thing for your brand to be present as a reliable constant in a chaotic context. Granted it isn’t for everybody, but you need to think it through.
It all boils down to your strategic position, and how each category of website frames it. Run through the list of categories and consider how each context could colour your brand.
We realise that’s a lot of new information to take in and a lot of new actions to forge ahead with – but we’d like to reassure you that the overall message is a simple one:
Online ad quality is starting to matter more.
With ad-blockers proliferating and improving, Google’s ad policing getting tighter and new features rolling out to make it easier to create good online advertisements, we’re shaping up for a step change in online ad quality. For advertisers who care about their craft, that’s cause for celebration.
We have always championed thinking putting the needs of your audience and customer first and finally, improving the ad experience you are offering looks set to be a great win win option.
The first push towards better quality ads is coming from Google – but once they’ve got the ball rolling the impetus will come instead from competition amongst advertisers and website managers. We have even speculated internally amongst ourselves if these moves indicate that Google is planning to place display advertising into the Search engine results pages? Will we see Google experimenting with display ads in
Will we soon see Google experimenting with display ads in SERPs?
Visual Ads In Search engine results pages would certainly make sense given the rise and popularity of visual content and video and the consumer interactions these formats gain currently on Social media platforms. These changes make us reflect heavily on the reasoning behind PPC ad Quality Scores. Time will tell if our speculation is correct so watch this space but remember you read about it first on Target Internet. One thing is for sure… As higher Ad quality becomes better facilitated and low-quality ad experiences more harshly judged, we will all have to work harder to keep up.
Stay tuned to the Target Internet blog and Digital Marketing Podcast for updates on ads, tools and all things digital marketing, as we move towards a smarter future!