A collective slapping sound could be heard all across the PPC industry yesterday. You might have heard it.. It was quite loud. It was the sound of thousands of AdWords account managers doing a massive *facepalm* over the news that Google was changing, in the most idiotic way possible, something that has been fundamental to AdWords accounts since Day 1: Google Ad Rotation.
Goodbye, Rotate: Show Ads More Evenly
Just as SEOs were seeing that sites were failing due to Google's Penguin Update, here comes news that Google is set to change the functionality of one of the most essential tools in any PPC managers bag.
Here's what Google said (think the Inside AdWords blog commenting is disabled for a reason?) about their changes in Ad Rotation:
Starting next week, the “rotate” setting for ad rotation will change. Instead of rotating creatives for an indefinite period of time, this setting will only rotate for a period of 30 days. After that, the setting will then optimize to show the ads expected to generate the most clicks. Every time a creative is enabled or edited, the ads in that ad group will rotate more evenly for a new period of 30 days.
This change will be rolling out next week. At that time, ad groups with creatives that haven’t been added or modified in the past thirty days will see this new ad rotation behavior. Otherwise, this change will begin 30 days after your last creative was enabled or edited.
Ask anyone who has been involved in AdWords to any extent and they will tell you that this is a very treasured and fundamental tool for any PPC marketer. (Although some recommended just saying no to ad rotation.)
Google AdWords Ad Rotation
Here is how Google has been handling Ad Delivery rotation for PPC and why it's important:
Since at least 2008, the default setting for ad rotation for AdWords has been to "Optimize for Clicks". The other option at the time was to "Rotate: Show Ads More Evenly".
Between the two options (which most advertisers didn't even know was a choice), it would seem that the one that made the most sense was the "Optmize for Clicks" option. It's on by default and after running an AdWords campaign for a while you could look at your metrics and clearly see that Ad 1 performed better than your Ad 2 variation. Why? Ad 1 got more clicks, was shown more often because of that and.. who would guess it? It got more clicks! Obviously it was better because of the fact that the copy for Ad 1 was so much more compelling than the other ad, right?
In early 2011, Google announced a new AdWords setting: Optimize for Conversions. This promised to:
"Show ads that are expected to provide more conversions more often."
This sounds even better, right?
Trust Google to not just show the ads that have a better click-through rate (CTR) but those that would actually convert better (via AdWords conversion metrics).
I can almost hear the sound of a thousand empty hands clapping. But I'm sure that this romanticized lingo must have resonated with a lot of advertisers and truth be told, it isn't horrible. Sometimes it can even help you. At the very least, it, like everything in PPC is worth testing. That's why this latest change is so upsetting.
Here are your options with Ad Rotation through Google:
All of this likely fell under the radar of most advertisers as it's all sorta hidden at the bottom of Advanced Campaign Settings through your AdWords interface. Of all the small/medium businesses I've worked with, somewhere between 0 and 1 percent knew that these options even existed.
PPC account managers have long known that the key to proper testing of ads lies in your ability to test ads head to head. Serve 1 ad 50 percent of the time and another 50 percent of the time and you'll learn which ad copy is actually bringing in the best CTR. Give it some time (depending on your amount of traffic) and you'll really understand the AdWords Ads which work vs. those that don't.
Now Google is giving you 30 days per ad to run those tests. For low volume or niche targets that is nowhere near enough time to draw accurate conclusions.
For agencies, this 30-day limit presents itself as a logistical nightmare. With thousands of ads running across hundreds of campaigns, each potentially on a different schedule – seriously, my head hurts just thinking about it!
Is This the End of Testing Your Ads?
By all means, no. But it's potentially the end of doing things the same way.
Hopefully, Acquisio or Marin might bring something to the table to help out or provide a workaround in some way, but until such time and in the absence of a budget for a software solution there are still a few things you can do.
- Get on a different ad testing schedule that is less than 30 days. Set calendar alerts or whatever you do to remind yourself. This should work with campaigns that get a fair amount of traffic and perhaps it will be even beneficial as it could force you to be more rigorous with your Ad testing.
- Get familiar (if you aren't already) with AdWords Campaign Experiments, commonly referred to as ACE. Campaign Experiments can be found at the very bottom of your Settings and they allow you to test a variety of things for a time period of up to 3 months per experiment.
It's nowhere near as straightforward as what one might hope, but it's a powerful tool that you should familiarize yourself with. With ACE, instead of just setting your ads up to rotate evenly, you can actually split test two versions of a campaign or ad group simultaneously.
Here are some additional resources to help you learn more about Google ACE and how you might make this work for your Ad testing:
- 5 Things to Try to With Google AdWords Campaign Experiments
- AdWords Campaign Experiments: Details and Pitfalls
- Google Official: Step 1: Set up experiments in ACE
- Google Official: Step 2: Defining your experimental changes (video)
- Google Official: Step 3: Monitoring your experiment (video)
Best of luck and I can only hope that Google will come to its senses and change this back. They won't, of course, but we can hope right? In the meantime, wear some soft gloves so you don't end up with hand prints on your face.
If you have any suggestions of other ways that PPC account managers can tackle this issue, or if you just want to voice your opinion, please tell us in the comments below!