Force Feeding Mobile: Google Continues SMB Courtship

simpsons-homer-doughnutsFor years Google has tried to court SMBs into search marketing through various means. This includes local sales channels (resellers) and directly to the more savvy “self-serve” SMB advertisers.

The latter has taken on many forms, such as free coaching and website development – a sort of training wheels to get SMBs online before they’re hoped to graduate to search advertising. AdWords credits and promos further greased the wheels.

Now with mobile’s growth as a marketing vehicle – including location-oriented SMBs – these website onboarding efforts have hit the small screen. This has been seen through Google’s GoMo effort and free mobile websites through partners like Duda Mobile.

Tail Enhancement

Efforts to romance the long tail SMB segment took a step forward recently with Google’s Enhanced Campaigns. This hotly contested AdWords update forces advertisers to run single – though conditionally governed – campaigns across desktop, mobile, and tablet.

Stepping back, search advertisers could previously run separate or solo campaigns on different devices. The name of the game was crafting bids and ad groups based on device-specific variances in anticipated search behavior (mobile users’ local intent for example).

The new system essentially forces them into converged campaigns across all devices. This is built around pre-set rules for when, where and to whom ads appear, meant to have a “one stop shop” appeal that still preserves some level of customization.

Google states as an example:

A breakfast cafe wants to reach people nearby searching for coffee or breakfast on a smartphone. Using bid adjustments, with three simple entries, they can bid 25% higher for people searching a half-mile away, 20% lower for searches after 11am, and 50% higher for searches on smartphones. These bid adjustments can apply to all ads and all keywords in one single campaign.

This also includes things like specific creative, or click-to-call buttons to complement mobile’s high intent, proximity-oriented searches. And a new reporting construct will align with these options to measure desired actions like calls, app downloads, etc.


Not So Fast…

This all sounds great for accommodating nuances around location-based mobile ads while simplifying the process for time-starved and technically challenged SMBs. But many advertisers – especially large ones – haven’t been so keen on the idea, and for good reason.

Among the grievances has been a resounding cry from brands and advanced AdWords advertisers that this “dumbs down” their options for device-specific campaigns. More importantly, there’s backlash against anticipated CPC pricing increases.

One key point is that these converged search campaigns will resolve to higher desktop CPCs. That’s obviously good for Google, as users flocking to mobile have caused lower mobile ad rates to drag down its overall CPC average (parallel to Facebook’s challenge).

But it’s not so good for advertisers – especially early adopters who now have to wave goodbye to long-enjoyed undervalued mobile search ad inventory. But could it be good for mobile holdouts or those just now getting into mobile search advertising (read: SMBs)?

Get Out the Stick

In other words, despite grumblings from larger advertisers, could Enhanced Campaigns’ forced platform convergence end up bettering SMBs? Though the above pricing downsides prevail, would a forced jolt out of dormancy in mobile outweigh that?

It could indeed be argued that Enhanced Campaigns will force a learning curve for aptitude in mobile search advertising. That includes campaign elements like keywords, ad copy, calls to action, and analytics. Marchex Institute’s John Busby zeroes in on this point.

Marketers will be required to think more deeply about mobile use cases, cross-channel measurement and attribution. Google’s research has shown that the most popular outcome of a local search is a phone call. Embracing call analytics solutions to effectively track the ROI of offline response to digital actions will be essential to optimizing campaigns. Similarly, I expect there to be increased focus on understanding in-store visits from mobile devices.

Just like when it changed mobile search ranking factors to bury non-optimized sites, Google is using the stick instead of the carrot. The tough love is timed right given a cloud based, cross-platform world where the path to purchase weaves between different screens.

SMBs should indeed end up better for being forced into this world. And it was going to take someone other than themselves to motivate them to learn how to work the medium that will constitute a key part of their next decade’s marketing mix.

Google, though it can be argued to have acted in self-interest (and not without downsides), has at least done SMBs a long-term favor with Enhanced Campaigns. As it’s rolled out this spring, the move should start to force many of them into the pool.

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