Last week, when Google announced that your mobile site’s performance is now a factor in how Google determines its AdWords quality, it didn’t get as much buzz as its 2010 announcement that site speed would affect Google search ranking. But it should have.
In the coming weeks, we will be introducing the mobile optimization of a website as a new factor of ads quality for AdWords campaigns that are driving mobile search traffic. As a result of this change, ads that have mobile optimized landing pages will perform better in AdWords — they will generally drive more mobile traffic at a lower cost.
If you run AdWords campaigns on a regular basis, this is obviously big news. But it’s big news beyond the world of paid search, too. Google is sending out an early warning to site owners: make your mobile site faster, or you’ll be left behind.
Countless studies tell us that, globally, mobile is going to leave the desktop in the dust. And even more studies tell us that people expect mobile sites to be at least as fast as sites on the desktop. But looking at a sampling of leading m-commerce sites — Keynote’s latest mobile commerce performance index is 10.15 seconds — it’s hard to detect any urgency on the part of site owners to deliver a faster mobile experience.
Before we get into that, a little background.
How AdWords works
For those new to AdWords, here’s a quick breakdown of how it works (more detailed info here):
- As an advertiser, you create your ads and choose your keywords. You set a daily cap and a per-click cap on how much you want to spend on your AdWords campaign. Per-click costs can range from a penny to $10 or more, but they’re generally in the range of one or two bucks. Your caps are used as your bid in an ongoing auction for ad space.
- When people use one of your keywords for a Google search, your ad may appear next to the search results. (Note the operative word here: may.)
- Every time someone clicks on your ad, you pay Google.
According to Wikipedia, click-through rates (CTR) for ads are about 8% for the first ad, 5% for the second one, and 2.5% for the third one. The ordering of the paid-for listings depends on other advertisers’ bids and the “quality score” of all ads shown for a given search.
So as an advertiser, your goal is to get the top ad spot, and the only way to do this is by having a good quality score for your ad. So how do you do this?
What is the “quality score” and how is it determined?
This is Google, so of course we’ll never know the exact recipe for their secret sauce, but they have shared this description:
A Quality Score is calculated every time your keyword matches a search query — that is, every time your keyword has the potential to trigger an ad. The AdWords system calculates a Quality Score for each of your keywords. It looks at a variety of factors to measure how relevant your keyword is to your ad text and to a user’s search query. A keyword’s Quality Score updates frequently and is closely related to its performance. In general, a high Quality Score means that your keyword will trigger ads in a higher position and at a lower cost-per-click (CPC).
To recap, in order to have a good quality score — for both desktop and mobile searches — your AdWords campaign needs to have:
- relevant keywords,
- relevant ad text,
- a strong CTR on Google, and
- a decent CPC bid.
This combination of factors is meant to be a boon for small business owners, because you can’t be locked out of the ranking system based solely on your bid, and you can’t necessarily win the top spot just by driving a dump truck full of money up to Larry Page’s house.
So where does mobile come into the picture?
This new announcement means that, in addition to all the factors above, the landing page quality of your mobile site is now a major factor for AdWords campaigns that drive mobile traffic. “Landing page quality” refers to everything from layout to mobile/touch features to landing page load time.
None of this is entirely new. Google says that, last year, it began to limit ad serving on some mobile devices if the ads pointed to Flash-heavy landing pages. Interestingly, this change was rolled out quietly, with no media fanfare.
On the surface, Google’s mobile AdWords changes may not sound as dramatic as its site speed/SEO announcement, but I see these changes as extremely telling. Whether making big public announcements or quietly rolling out changes behind the scenes, Google is an inexorable juggernaut when it comes to site speed. Now Google has clearly set its sights on mobile. These early algorithm changes are just the first of many we can expect in the very near future.