Google Comparison Ads: Friend or Foe?
For consumers and performance marketers who may not be aware of Google Comparison Ads (GCA), it’s a product that enables users to compare multiple and relevant offers from various advertisers. Google Comparison Ads originated in the UK marketplace with the mortgage vertical and was first brought to the US in October 2009. After positive user and advertiser feedback, Google expanded the offering to credit card and banking products (CDs, savings and checking accounts) in late 2010. Thus far the mortgage product has already entered the paid model, but credit cards/banking products are still in an ‘alpha’ free trial period for advertisers.
As always, Google is leading the way in looking for innovative ways to provide more relevant information to the consumer marketplace, which should in turn help performance marketers reach prospects who are most interested in their products and services. At first glance, GCA brings speed, transparency, usability and privacy to the PPC (Pay per click) ecosystem. But is this complementary to regular paid search or is it in fact competing? Let’s take a deeper look at the pros and cons of this extension.
How GCAs are a marketer’s “friend”
Customization and standardization. Google has opted to standardize the way information is presented and the type of material advertisers are able to provide within a product schema. This minimizes clutter, bait and switch offers and gives a fair assessment of each major brand. Google has also made this product for direct marketers only; no listing sites/aggregators are part of the current program. Outside of clean and concise information, marketers are able to create custom offers based on their goals and objectives to find the customers who will provide the greatest lifetime value to their business. Advertisers create ‘rules’ for specific card/customer criteria and if these inputs are met, they will bid the maximum lead price they are willing to pay to capture that customer.
Targeting and Conversion Rates. Not only are direct marketers able to customize their offers, but this allows them to target users at a much more granular level. Prospects have a variety of inputs to ‘pre-define’ what they are looking for and their creditworthiness. Giving users the ability to search on a number of relevant attributes allows Google to serve up more targeted ads. This funnels more valuable leads to advertisers based on how users have ‘pre-qualified’ themselves. It’s a win-win situation as users receive an offer that matches their specific needs and increases the propensity for an instant ‘approval’.
Using internal Efficient Frontier data thus far, a major financial services client has seen an approximate lift of 120% in quality of conversion in comparison to regular Paid Search:
Visibility and Custom UI. For advertisers who opt into GCA, there is a separate dashboard similar to that of Google AdWords. Like setting up a typical account, it is straightforward, painless and intuitive, and your Google Account Management team can facilitate this. Marketers can also set up a product feed via FTP to ensure that product offers are relevant and up-to-date with accurate financial credentials. Most importantly, you can use the toolset to create campaigns, rules, bids, etc. The workflow is imitative again of AdWords – it is easy to view a list of product offerings, set rules and conditions and of course review your lead information. Using tracking and lead IDs per product, Google not only identifies duplicate leads, but also only charges you once within that session upon ‘clicking out’ on the “apply now” button. Lastly, they allow third-party piggyback certified tracking to follow users through the entire conversion funnel.
Payment Model. Credit cards and bank products are currently in beta trial, in which all generated leads are provided free-of-charge to participating advertisers. Although that is delightful in the short-term, Google is rapidly approaching the paid environment. From what we know currently, position and placement is arbitrarily determined by a variety of hierarchical inputs, using credit cards as an example: APR, Period and Bid Price. With the ‘payment model,’ advertisers will need to bid above a floor price to enter the auction. The product that makes the auction will appear based upon the user’s inputted criteria and sort preference. Some performance marketers might find this counter-intuitive to bidding a premium for top placement, for if a user changes the filters and or sorting options, they may in fact be trying to achieve position 1, but in reality, secure position 3. Google has been urging advertisers to not look at Comparison Ads as a way to pay to be in top position, but instead to look at the bidding methodology as paying for what the lead is worth and thus they should be happy with the quality of the lead.
Optimization. Another major concern for advertisers and a justified one at that is the lack of Quality Score in the paid product. Google Project Managers have said that they will definitely be looking into this down the road, but there are no current plans in the immediate pipeline. Thus with no Quality Score component, larger marketers may have more leverage (investment) to inflate the marketplace and increase the minimum reserve CPC to obtain a particular position. Currently, Google is choosing not to pass critical ‘value parameters’ via the API to platforms and necessary keyword information for modeling and bidding appropriately based on conversion data. As a net result, it is imperative that agencies and performance marketers collaboratively work together to interpret conversion data and patterns to efficiently and effectively bid in a rules-based environment.
Google Comparison Ads Position 1 and CPCs. At this point in time, Google is only serving Comparison Ads against a limited number of upper funnel generic terms (i.e. “credit cards”, “mortgages”, “certificate of deposit” etc.). When a user physically enters this query, one will notice that Google automatically supplants itself in the first position, which pushes down the rest of the sponsored ads.
Although this does not arbitrarily inflate CPCs in the sponsored auction, advertisers are losing real estate on the SERP and potentially a qualified prospect to a competitor via Comparison Ads. Yes, the product was created to improve the user experience and provide valuable leads to performance marketers, but it is critical for agencies to monitor the SOV gained and or lost by the introduction of this tool. And of course, without the auction control of QS, and limited visibility to optimize bids, will that potential prospect via GCA be more or less expensive than a standard paid search event? The other unidentified variable is how many keywords Google will decide to include in the list to enable Comparison Ads.
Like any new product, there is still a large amount of mystery about Google Comparison Ads. Google has been a bit ambiguous about providing transparent details on the auction marketplace in GCA and causality within the sponsored results. To be fair, any product will continue to evolve over time to adapt to a capitalistic marketplace. Efficient Frontier is proactively diving into our client data, so look for future blogs on this topic as we better understand the finer points of this Google product.