Why a PPC #Mobilegeddon Could Be a Good Thing

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Taped-off poorly performing PPC account

Since Google’s mobile-friendly algorithm launched last week, keen-eyed advertisers have spotted ‘mobile-friendly’ labels in paid search ads. Does this mean a PPC mobilegeddon is on the way, asks Alison Booth, and if so, might is actually be a good thing?

Digital marketing’s pulse is racing, and it’s all because of mobile phones.

Launched a week ago today, Google’s mobile-friendly update promises to disrupt organic search by rewarding mobile-friendly sites with improved rankings.

What’s more, the algorithm is said to be bigger than Google’s Penguin or Panda algorithms – the latter of which famously cost eBay 80% of its organic rankings when it was last updated.

It’s no wonder the update has been nicknamed ‘mobilegeddon’.

So it’s a big deal. But if you haven’t heard of the mobile-friendly update, don’t worry – until now, mobilegeddon has been primarily a concern for SEOs. Google has made it very clear that the update only affects organic rankings, and only in Google’s mobile search interface.

However, there are signs emerging that suggest paid search may soon have to contend with its own mobilegeddon.

Worried yet? Let’s look at the evidence…

The Story So Far

ClickThrough Marketing (BidCops’ parent company) published an eBook about the soon-to-be-released new algorithm last month. In it, ClickThrough’s director of paid search shared her predictions about Google’s mobile-friendly obsession, and its effects on PPC:

Google is quite clear in its intentions with its new ranking factor – it wants to provide users with ‘the most relevant and timely results’.

Although the update only affects organic search, it makes sense that Google will […] also take mobile usability into account when ranking PPC ads. After all, they’re an integral part of the search experience, and are inherently more visible than organic results.

If this ends up happening, having a mobile-unfriendly site will mean settling for lower Quality Scores – and, in turn, paying more to secure the same ad positions.

And then, earlier this week, something scary happened. Google began testing ‘mobile-friendly’ labels in paid search ads.

Mobile-friendly labels on PPC ads.

Source: The SEM Post.

These labels appear in organic results when Google has designated a webpage as being mobile-friendly. They mean a search result can expect a ranking boost – while sites without mobile-friendly labels will find it harder to compete with mobile-savvy rivals.

Does the appearance of these labels in paid search ads mean that Google is about to apply the same rules to PPC? Will being mobile-friendly mean better Quality Scores? Lower costs per click? Better ad positions?

And will having an out-of-date, mobile-unfriendly website mean the opposite? Poor Quality Scores? Stretched budgets? Reduced visibility?

Soon, the screenshots of Google’s test had caught the attention of the wider world. Larry Kim at WordStream, for instance, was quite adamant that “PPC mobilegeddon is coming”. He even made a meme…

PPC Mobilegeddon is Coming!

Source: WordStream.

Kim wrote:

The question isn’t why would Google apply the [mobile-friendly] philosophy to ads, but why wouldn’t it?

Testing an algorithmic transition of this magnitude on organic results first makes a lot of sense. After all, with $50 billion riding on its advertising business, Google probably doesn’t want to slap its advertisers around as hard – at least for now. They’re paying guests, after all, not lucky winners who’ve risen to the top for free, right?

He added: “Before long, I predict that Google will start giving more weight to mobile optimisation as part of its Ad Rank formula.”

It’s important to point out that Google has unequivocally denied that these tests will have any impact on Quality Score, and says it has no plans to roll out the mobile-friendly update to paid search.

However, others are not convinced. After all, it’s not unknown for Google to very carefully word a rebuttal, so it gives itself room to implement changes in future.

At the moment, it’s all speculation. But the signs are there.

What a PPC Mobilegeddon Would Mean

Let’s assume that Google does have plans for a paid search mobilegeddon. What effect would this have on the way we do PPC?

We already know that Google factors mobile friendliness into ad quality – it announced this back in November 2011.

And ever since then, evidence has pointed to a tighter emphasis on mobile users. For instance, Google updated its landing page guidelines in December 2013 to add this point:

You can make improve your landing page experience by […] making it easy for customers to navigate your site (including on mobile sites).

The previous version (via Wayback Machine) doesn’t explicitly reference mobile usability as having a direct effect on ‘landing page experience’.

So mobile usability – as well as page loading speed, keyword relevancy and ease of navigation – is already having an effect on Quality Score and/or Ad Rank. If Google begins using mobile-friendly labels in PPC, the only differences will be that:

a)      Google will likely give more weight to mobile usability into its algorithm.

b)      The fact that a site is mobile-friendly will be explicitly referenced.

The second point is the crux. Organic search’s mobilegeddon works in binary – a site is either mobile-friendly, or it isn’t. It will either get a ranking boost, or it won’t. There are no ‘degrees’ of mobile-friendliness.

The same can’t be said for paid search right now. We’re already dealing with some sort of mobile-friendly factor in our work, but we don’t have the benefit of a binary ‘Yes/No’ label.

That’s right – a benefit. In a sense, mobile-friendly labels would be a welcome bit of clarity in the sometimes alchemistic world of Quality Scores, Ad Rank and other hazy algorithms.

Sure, the whole world could see that your site isn’t mobile-friendly. Sure, your competitors would likely take clicks from mobile customers.

But at least you’d know why.

News on PPC and Google advertising from BidCops – providing Google PPC help for paid search campaigns.

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