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A Dangerous Change To Google’s Content Targeting Options

By John Woods  |  February 2, 2023

It’s not unusual for Google to tweak things in Google Ads in ways that can impact campaign performance. For instance there was a change to keyword match types two years ago: https://sharpahead.com/blog/google-ads-adieu-broad-match-modifier/. Usually these changes have only modest implications for running campaigns. 

But yesterday we learned about a Google Ads change that is a bit of a shocker. It won’t affect every advertiser by any means, but if the changes are relevant for your campaigns then the impacts could be horrendous. Here’s the core part of the announcement: 

“Also, to help you reach more potential customers, your ads will now show on content that matches any of the topics, placements, or display and video keywords you target. For example, an ad targeting a topic and a placement will be eligible for impressions which match either. 
 
Currently, your ads can only show on content that simultaneously matches all of the topics, placements, and display and video keywords you target.” 

In summary: Google are changing some display ad targeting from “AND logic” to “OR logic”. So previously we could target display ads to pages that are on specific websites AND that relate to specific topics. Now that “AND” will change to “OR”. The changes will be applied automatically to running campaigns and there’s no way to avoid this. 

This might not seem all that dramatic. But here’s an analogy: 

Suppose you’re a business that makes chutney. You have a regular order with a supplier for green tomatoes. Things go well for several years with your green tomatoes turning up each day. Then one day you receive a shipment with: 

  • A few green tomatoes – way fewer than your normal order 
  • Loads of red and yellow tomatoes 
  • Loads of cabbages, cucumbers, peas and broccoli  

I think you’d be unhappy! You call the supplier. “What’s the problem?” they say. “You asked for green tomatoes. Everything we’ve sent you is either a tomato, or green. Or even both!” 

The same problem applies to display campaigns that are impacted by this change – instead of reaching the exact intended audience, they will go to much broader audiences that are largely irrelevant to the advertiser’s original strategy. 

Let’s look at a realistic B2B PPC example: suppose I want to show an ad for a B2B technology-related product. I might decide I want to focus my budget on dailymail.co.uk – because I think their readership is a good fit for my target demographic – but obviously the whole readership of the Daily Mail is far too broad for me to target. So I can choose to combine a second criterion and show the ad on pages that relate to technology industry news. With Google’s current setup – which has been in place for many years! – those targeting options combine to give this result: 

So there are around 5,000 impressions available for ads on dailymail.co.uk on pages that relate to the technology industry. That’s a very affordable, niche target that I can go after with a budget of perhaps only a few pounds a week. 

With Google’s change the number of impressions goes up dramatically: 

So instead of 5,000 available impressions there are now 1.8M+370K=2.2 MILLION impressions! The audience is nearly 500x larger. 

That might sound exciting but in fact it’s a disaster for this campaign. I wanted to reach Daily Mail readers who read content about the technology industry. Instead I’m now reaching ALL Daily Mail readers, and ALL pages (on the whole internet!) that carry content about the technology industry. The original strategy behind my campaign has been destroyed. In the worst case – the campaign might spend 500x more and deliver the same return. So the campaign ROI could be 500x worse! 

Budget/spend implications: 

Depending on budget settings, there’s a risk that some display campaigns may suddenly start spending dramatically more money. And this extra spend will mostly be wasted as the additional impressions will be outside of the original targeting intent of the campaign. 

What we think: 

This is an unfortunate change by Google for two reasons. Firstly, it takes away a strategy that has been really valuable for niche B2B marketers who want to make some use of Google’s Display Network. The GDN is substantially less useful for B2B marketing as a result of this change. 

But secondly it sets a worrying precedent. If Google feels entitled to implement automatic changes that totally undermine the original intent behind a campaign setup, and that may dramatically damage the ROI from running campaigns, that undermines trust and confidence in the Google Ads platform. 

I think this change is poorly thought out, and I  hope  Google will reverse it, or at least implement it in a “safer” way. But for now we have to take Google at their word and assume the change is going ahead. 

What you need to do: 

If you run Display campaigns on Google Ads, you need to immediately review whether any of your existing campaigns will be impacted by this change. The change may go live as soon as 1st March 2023, so you only have a few weeks. If you don’t take action you risk seeing your Google Display spend rising dramatically for little or no return. 

For Sharp Ahead retained clients: 

We will be proactively reviewing the impact of this change on all Google Ads accounts where we are currently engaged for PPC management. At a minimum, we will arrange to pause any campaigns where we are concerned about the negative impact. 

As usual, if you have any concerns or need help with this or any other aspect of PPC management for B2B marketing, please get in touch! 
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Google confirms timing for bringing page experience to Google Search

By Jennifer Esty  |  November 11, 2020

On Tuesday Google confirmed that page experience signals in ranking will roll out in May 2021.

The news follows the May 2020 announcement of a new set of standards for measuring “page experience”. That is, whether a particular web page delivers its content in a way that gives a positive experience for the user.

The new signals will combine Core Web Vitals with existing search signals, including: mobile-friendliness, safe-browsing, HTTPS-security, and intrusive interstitial guidelines.

What does this mean for you as a website owner?

If you have started already, you need to ensure that your site, and landing pages, meet the new standards or risk seeing your search engine results penalised for poor performance (and higher performing competitors given a boost).

Fortunately Google has put in place clear guidelines for how they will measure page experience. And they have provided a suite of tools to help site owners identify and fix issues.

Search Console: use the report for Core Web Vitals for an overview of how your site is doing and a details into any issues.

Page Speed Insights: get your CWV score and suggestions on where to make improvements (also helpful for ongoing testing as you make changes to your site)

For the full suite of Google tools, visit Google’s Tools to measure Core Web Vitals.

For more detailed information, check out our previous blog post on the announcement back in May.

If you’d like help understanding the impact of page experience on your B2B digital marketing strategy, or with any other aspect of B2B digital marketing, contact us today for a no-obligation consultation.

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Google is bringing a big dose of science to web user experience…and it matters to anyone with a website

By John Woods  |  June 9, 2020

Google has announced a new set of standards for measuring “page experience” – that is, whether a particular web page delivers its content in a way that gives a positive experience for the user. These new standards provide a specific, pass or fail benchmark for three aspects of page experience that Google’s research has identified as particularly impactful for users.

Many websites currently fail to meet these new standards. Google is allowing a period of time before enforcement, but site owners are now on notice: they will need to improve their websites to meet these new page experience benchmarks, or face penalties to their SEO rankings.

In this article I’ll give an overview of the new standards, discuss their implications for B2B digital marketers, and highlight some immediate next steps you should be taking to ensure you are not left behind as Google rolls out its implementation of these standards.

Introducing Core Web Vitals

Google is calling the new standards “Core Web Vitals”. You’ll start to see them appear in various Google tools and reports. For example, here’s how they show up in Google Search Console:

A tablet showing a core web vitals report

There are three separate measures in Core Web Vitals:

• Largest Contentful Paint (LCP): a measure of how long the page takes to display, when first loaded

• First Input Delay (FID): measures how quickly the page becomes interactive

• Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS): measures what Google calls “visual stability”, in other words how much the page elements flicker and move around during the initial loading process.

Each of these measures has its own specific benchmarks on a traffic light system. For example the LCP needs to be below 2.5s to score as “good”. Between 2.5s and 4.0s LCP means “needs improvement”. And LCP above 4.0s means “poor”.

I’ll drill into these three measurements in a future article. For now, it’s enough to say that they measure separate and largely independent aspects of user experience: so for example a page that scores very highly on LCP could still score badly on FID or CLS. So each measure will need individual attention.

Why Core Web Vitals matter

Page experience has been important for SEO for a long time. Google and other search engines naturally want to feature pages that will provide a positive experience for users. But to date the exact impact of page experience on SEO rankings has been hard to understand.

This is great news for all of us when we use the web: by providing an explicit incentive to avoid poor page experience, Google is helping to encourage higher standards for user experience across the web.

It is also good news for site owners: with Core Web Vitals, Google is making the impact of page experience on SEO much more transparent. A website owner can use the Core Web Vitals benchmarks as a reliable guide to whether their page experience is good enough to avoid SEO penalties, and can target specific improvements if they are needed.

But there is some bad news for site owners: the Core Web Vitals benchmarks are pretty demanding! It is likely that many websites will need to make significant technical changes to meet the new benchmarks and avoid SEO penalties. This is especially true for niche B2B websites which have often been designed and implemented with relatively little concern for page experience.

Although Google haven’t said so explicitly, I predict that page experience will become a much more significant ranking factor for SEO as Google rolls out these standards. So B2B marketers who pay attention to Core Web Vitals and who take action to ensure their websites meet the new benchmarks will be rewarded with higher levels of organic search traffic. And those who do not take action are likely to see their organic traffic decline.

Google’s announcements so far only relate Core Web Vitals to organic search. But I would not be surprised to see Core Web Vitals quickly becoming a factor in quality score for paid search (PPC/SEM). Google Ads already has a component of quality score for “landing page experience”, so it would be entirely logical for Google to take Core Web Vitals into account in the future. If that happens, Core Web Vitals scores will have a direct bearing on PPC costs: because a higher quality score reduces the amount paid for each click, and vice versa.

There’s time, but the clock is ticking

Google acknowledges that website owners will need time to improve their page experience. Their announcement says that the new measures will not be incorporated into SEO rankings until 2021 at the earliest, and that there will be a minimum of 6 months’ notice of the specific date.

Google has introduced similar policies in the past designed to encourage improvements in user experience. In particular, Google encouraged site owners to move from non-secure http: to secure https: connections, and pushed for mobile-friendly page design. Both of these were introduced gently with a small SEO impact at first, increasing over time. I predict we will see the same with Core Web Vitals: a small penalty for sites that don’t meet the benchmarks at first,  but rising to a much more substantial penalty over time – to the point where, like https and mobile-friendliness, it will become inconceivable to attempt any meaningful SEO strategy on a site that does not meet the Core Web Vitals benchmarks.

What to do now – find out where you stand

You can see how your web pages score against the Core Web Vitals benchmarks right away. Check your website with Google’s free Pagespeed Insights tool. You’ll see your current scores highlighted with a blue icon, like this example:

A breakdown of site performance on a tablet

Some things to consider when using this tool:

• Each page will have its own scores. You should check more than one page: important pages like the homepage and the “contact us” page, for example, and any pages that you have built specifically to bring in organic traffic.

• Pagespeed Insights ranks mobile and desktop versions of your page separately. Make sure to look at both. Many B2B sites are built primarily for desktop, a great set of Core Web Vitals on desktop won’t help you much if you fail every measure on mobile.

• The report shows both “Field Data” and “Lab Data” – concentrate on Field Data if it is available. If your page has small numbers of visitors (like many niche B2B pages) there may not be enough data for the “Field Data” report to show. In that case you can use the “Lab Data” report as a backup.

What to do next – plan to pass the benchmarks

You may be lucky enough to find that all of your important pages already pass the Core Web Vitals benchmarks. If so, congratulations! You should still remain vigilant, especially if you plan any technical or design changes to your pages, but it’s unlikely you will need to do any major work.

But it is much more likely you will find that your pages fail at least some of the benchmarks. This is especially true for B2B websites, where page performance and user experience are typically not given high priority in the design and implementation stages. In that case you’ll need to plan and budget for technical or design changes, or brace yourself for an eventual SEO penalty and consequent loss of organic traffic – and perhaps other negative implications too.

For some B2B website implementations it may be impractical to meet the Core Web Vitals benchmarks even with very large amounts of work. If your site is one of those, it may be time to consider a redesign or a complete replatform – with compliance with Core Web Vitals benchmarks an explicit goal for the project.

If you’d like help understanding the impact of Core Web Vitals on your B2B digital marketing strategy, or with any other aspect of B2B digital marketing, contact us today for a no-obligation consultation.

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HTTPS encryption – time to act or face damage to your brand

By John Woods  |  February 23, 2018

Does your website use HTTPS yet?

HTTPS is not just about security: it is also essential for many modern browser features.

For several years, Google has been gently encouraging websites to move to secure HTTPS. Google has offered a gentle nudge with the carrot of somewhat-improved search rankings.

But the carrot hasn’t worked very well. In our most recent research, a whopping 87% of our sample of B2B companies were still using non-secure HTTP for their websites.

So Google has reached for the stick. If your website is not using HTTPS by July 2018, visitors using Google’s Chrome browser will see a “not secure” warning:

Treatment of HTTP Pages

Blogspot

Google Chrome is by far the most popular web browser at the moment, with about 65% market share on desktop and about 50% on mobile (see http://gs.statcounter.com/browser-market-share/). So if you don’t move your website to HTTPS by July 2018, more than half of your visitors will see a “not secure” warning on every page.

A security warning isn’t the end of the world, but at best it is distracting for web visitors. It’s an ongoing blot on your website’s user experience which will result in lost conversions and drip-drip damage to your brand.

So it’s time to act: get a plan in place to switch your website to HTTPS before July 2018.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

For advice about switching a website to https – or  replacing your outdated B2B website with a new one with https built in! – contact Sharp Ahead today.

Oxford

Digital Transformation Event 2016 – Oxford

By Jennifer Esty  |  November 15, 2016

We still have places available for our free digital transformation event in Oxford on November 24, 2016 from 6pm.

Join us for an evening with industry experts from Google, Act-On, and Sharp Ahead to:

  • Understand the digital transformation opportunities available for your business
  • See how paid search can quickly enhance your digital presence
  • Explore the impact marketing automation software has on efficiency
  • Hear first-hand how Oxford Innovation digitally transformed their organisation

(Not to mention networking, nibbles and drinks.)

Designed for B2B marketing and sales decision makers, this digital transformation event will take place in Oxford on Thursday November 24.

The event will begin at 6pm.

More about the digital transformation events speakers:

Google Logo

Hear directly from the experts at Google how digital marketing can quickly and effectively drive awareness, influence purchase consideration and increase sales.

Act-On Logo

Marketing Automation experts Act-On will take you through the new buyer’s journey, focusing on the stages of modern marketing and how to turn your customers into advocates for your products and brand. They provide top tips for content marketing, email marketing, lead nurturing, marketing automation and more.

Oxford Innovation Logo

Find out how Oxford Innovation achieved a 90% reduction in client acquisition costs, a 400% increase in qualified sales leads and are 110% ahead of target for sales.

Sharp Ahead Logo

We surveyed the digital presence of over 500 UK B2B companies. Based on this we think most B2B digital marketing in the UK is broken – that is, poorly done and hurting sales. Dr John Woods will present the survey findings along with quick fixes that B2B digital marketers need to know.

Contact us to book your place or download the 2016 Broken Report.

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