Why Dynamic Sitelinks Will Decrease Your CTR

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SEJ-Why Dynamic Sitelinks Will Decrease Your CTR

I hadn’t seen anything about the new Dynamic Ad Sitelinks before the first reports came out. Therefore, it took me a couple of days to take it all in and think of the consequences, as well as the benefits, of all advertisers getting ad Sitelinks.

My first thought was: “Why has Google made clicks on Dynamic Ad Sitelinks free?”

To me, this reminds me of a retention specialist who mindlessly cuts pricing when their clients cancel. If Google is willing to give away clicks on dynamic ad Sitelinks for free, I honestly don’t have much faith in the value of ad Sitelinks.

Which leads me to my next thought: “Why doesn’t Google put enough value on Dynamic Ad Sitelinks to charge for them?”

To answer this question, I researched how Google chooses which dynamic Sitelinks to show:

“When people are searching on Google to complete a task, like buying a car or planning a trip, they might perform several searches and click multiple search results. Based on this activity, AdWords can determine which pages on your site are highly relevant to their current search. With dynamic sitelinks, we’ll annotate your ads with a link to those pages.” Source: AdWords Help Center

So, when Google says they are dynamic, the Sitelinks are truly dynamic. They will choose the Sitelinks based on what the user has visited on your site before. So far so good, but that opens up some clear questions about the positive impact.

  • What happens if the person hasn’t visited your website before?
  • Will Google cross-reference data across competitors in the same space?
  • Is it even a good idea to show links to what the person has already visited?

Keep in mind, these questions do not challenge the validity of whether the dynamic Sitelinks will help increase CTR on your ads, but instead of how it will affect conversions.

Over the years we have learned if you don’t choose your Sitelinks with care, you can actually hurt your conversion rate. That makes the thought of having Google choosing dynamic Sitelinks for my ads is not something I’m particularly excited about.

What Are the True Intentions Behind Free Dynamic Sitelinks?

Google wants to ensure the best experience for users (at least for the ads part), so they won’t risk poor search result experiences for an immediate profit gain. Google is in for the long-term, and I honestly don’t think they would risk their clear lead-position by earning a couple of extra dollars.

That is why I don’t think we will see a negative impact from dynamic Sitelinks.

Larry Kim reports advertisers, on average, see a 10% increase in CTR after adding Ad Sitelinks. That means giving out free clicks on dynamic Sitelinks is not as much a gift to you as it is a gift to themselves. By providing you with an incentive to not opt out of dynamic, they ensure that most people won’t go through the trouble.

Let’s say that a very generous number of people click Sitelinks at 5%. This means Google still makes the extra 5% in ad clicks versus organic clicks.

The Savvy Advertiser Lose an Edge Against the Competition

Savvy advertisers will, understandably, be slightly annoyed with Google right now.

Compare it to studying for a huge test in college. You spend weeks getting ready for the big exam. You have read, taken mock exams with other students, and overall spent a great deal of time ensuring you would ace the exam.

On the other hand, the majority of your fellow students spent their time partying and generally goofing off. They are nowhere near as ready for this exam as you — and you are looking forward to finishing at the top of your class.

When the day finally arrives you find out that everyone will be handed a booklet with the answers.

Can you imagine the disappointment? You might as well not have studied at all.

The same thing applies to dynamic Sitelinks — albeit on a slightly smaller scale. All the advertisers who have spent time writing Sitelinks will now be likely to have lower returns on this effort.

Which brings me to my next point:

Will Ad Sitelinks CTR Increase Continue To Be 10% If Everyone Has Sitelinks?

As dynamic Sitelinks roll out on all accounts, I am looking forward to a study on whether or not the 10% increase will still be in effect. Take into account that the current 10% CTR increase is measured on ads with Sitelinks versus ads without Sitelinks, so I wonder if the impact will still be as big.

We all know how important it is to make your ads stand out in the SERPs. With everyone getting Sitelinks, the old ads will no longer seem special, and I foresee the CTR effect to be much smaller in the future.

However, I also see the penalty for not having Sitelinks increasing in the future. If you choose to opt-out of ad Sitelinks, you will be more disadvantaged than ever.

While we all sit and ponder these questions, I’m eager to see the results over the next couple of weeks. It will be interesting to see if some of our predictions hold up. What are your thoughts? Please share them in the comments below.


Featured Image: Illustration by White Shark Media. Used with permission.

Andrew Lolk

Andrew Lolk

CMO, Co-founder White Shark Media® at White Shark Media®
Andrew Lolk is the author of the 189-page free AdWords ebook The Proven AdWords Strategy. He's worked in AdWords since 2009 and have co-founded White Shark Media®; A leading Search Marketing agency and Google AdWords Premier SMB Partner: We help small businesses succeed through innovative search engine marketing strategies.
Andrew Lolk
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  • isaacrudansky


    Good points here. Of course, Google has no concern for short term profits if it would stand to harm the overall user experience in any way … they’ve demonstrated this philosophy time and time again.

    Regarding the heretofore 10% CTR increase, I’d have to argue that it can’t just be a theory – you’re mathematically correct.

    Adding sitelinks leads to an average CTR increase of 10% – which has to be on the basis of sharing the page with advertisers not showing stelinks. If every ad on the page is running sitelinks, than every ad is “entitled” to the same 10% increase in CTR, effectively nullifying the 10% increase for everybody (of course other variables like ad position will regulate and still have an impact). If this same scenario would to play out on every SERP, the increased CTR for the savvy (and now disgruntled) advertiser would have to be mathematically void.

    It’s interesting though … could this be the onset of a substantial SEO-PPC overlap?

    If google is pulling the sitelinks dynamically from previous site traffic, doesn’t it stand to reason that the more traffic passing through your site (SEO), the more accurate (effective) your (PPC) dynamic sitelinks will be !?

    • http://www.whitesharkmedia.com/ Andrew Lolk

      That’s just the thing. Google doesn’t really go into details where they will pull the data from. You can argue that it will be from SEO and PPC, but we don’t know yet. Will any site with Analytics be able to backtrack visitors and show relevant dynamic sitelinks no matter the initial entry-point?

      The more I think about the more I realize how little I’d want to let Google decide what sitelinks I show for my ads. I just don’t think they would be able to show the right links.

      Just because a visitor has visited parts of my site before it doesn’t mean I want to show that page to them in my sitelinks. Does that mean we will start showing sitelinks that are irrelevant for the search query? That can easily happen if the user visited the electronics category and then searches for baby clothes (with a serious electronics addiction and a 1-year old I do plenty of both) he would see electronic sitelinks for baby ads?

      It just doesn’t seem like a good idea for savvy advertisers in my book.

      • isaacrudansky

        Interesting … although on could argue that in your case, the site would have to offer both electronics and baby clothing – an overlap usually reserved for large enterprises (amazon, WalMart etc) – websites where people do generally make completely unrelated purchases in one shot. In Googles perspective, showing a baby clothes sitelink for an electronics query may be a reasonable thing to do if that visitor did express interest in the companies baby department recently …. But then again, we don’t have reason to assume yet that Google would actually show unrelated sitelinks purely on the basis of a previous visit.

        My guess is that in those cases, Google will default to your custom sitelinks.

        And on the bright side, if they do indeed start showing whacky sitelinks, the savvy marketer could still retain his edge by opting out and maintaining a keen eye on his or her custom sitelinks.

  • souleye

    my question has always been: what’s the point of sitelinks. in organic search I understand if you main page shows up in searches, sitelinks give searchers option to click on specific pages. for adwords, all the ads that I create for my clients have a destination which is a landing page specifically created for that adgroup. how can a sitelink be more specific than a landing page?

    • http://www.adwordacademy.com/ Isaac Rudansky

      @souleye, let’s say you’re client has five distinct services / products, or separate subcategories of the same service / product. Not every keyword in your account is going to be indicative of a user looking for one precise thing. Sitelinks allow you to offer a choice of multiple, specific landing pages that may or may not be more aligned with what the customer was really looking for. For example, someone may be looking to hire a personal injury lawyer in Detroit. His initial query may very well be “personal injury lawyer Detroit”, and it’s great that you’ll have a nice landing page set up for the searcher to visit. But perhaps the searcher is a victim of a burn accident, and he’s really looking for a personal injusry lawyer to help with his burn case. You can offer a sitelink leading to the firms “Burn Victim Personal Injury Law” landing page – and you’ll have succeeded in offering a more precise result to that specific searchers needs.

      You may say that you’ll just target keywords like “burn victim personal injury law” and send the click to the burn page … but that would be missing the entire point of the sitelink … many users LOOKING for the burn victim personal injury page, will still just type “personal injury lawyer Detroit” into Google.

    • http://www.whitesharkmedia.com/ Andrew Lolk

      The main argument behind the effectiveness of Ad Sitelinks is that you don’t always know the intention behind a search by simply looking at the keyword.

      Isaac’s example is good and there are more examples that are even more simple. Let’s say you’re selling Nike shoes and someone searches for Nike running shoes. Your headline says Nike Running Shoes. In this case you can use four Ad Sitelinks for the following pages:

      Cheapest Nike Running Shoes
      Most Popular Nike Running Shoes
      Latest Editions
      “A specific model”

      Seeing that you don’t know exactly what the searcher is looking for based on the search ‘Nike running shoes’ you get a better opportunity by providing 4 separate destination pages.

      One of the reasons why you’re having doubts about Ad Sitelinks is because you rarely see advertisers use them perfectly.

      But you are correct about the validity of Ad Sitelinks sometimes. They aren’t always useful, which we can also see in the fact that Ad Sitelinks are rarely clicked themselves.

  • http://okaymarketing.com Brian Jackson

    Good post Andrew on a topic that has been on my mind recently. I really don’t like this move by Google. I consider myself an “OCD Marketer” which means I don’t have a single ad running without extensions. Anything I can do to increase my CTR and be on top I have done the very first day I launch a campaign, even if it means staying up all night lol. I don’t see this helping me at all, only hurting me. Now my competitors will all have sitelinks running who didn’t before. Means I have to work just that much harder to beat them 🙁 But that is no surprise when it comes to SEM 🙂

    • http://www.whitesharkmedia.com/ Andrew Lolk

      I completely agree, Brian.

      When I first heard about it I thought it sounded interesting. But as many things labeled “dynamic” then it’s not always a great thing once you start diving into it 🙂

  • Ernie Jones

    Thanks for the article, but one possible correction… I don’t think Google “will choose the Sitelinks based on what the user has visited on your site before”. Rather, the sitelinks are based on “searches and… search results”, or as their support page puts it “based on the customer’s current search activity”. In other words, it’s based on related previous searches in Google, not on the user’s previous behavior on the target site.

    • http://www.whitesharkmedia.com/ Andrew Lolk

      Hey Ernie,

      It appears you’re correct. Reviewing the introduction article from Google on the subject it does state

      “When people are searching on Google to complete a task, like buying a car or planning a trip, they might perform several searches and click multiple search results. Based on this activity, AdWords can determine which pages on your site are highly relevant to their current search.” Source: https://support.google.com/adwords/answer/6058574

      It does say “click multiple search results”, but I agree that this doesn’t confirm that Google will review a user’s visits to your own website.

      It does open the conversation for whether Google will use data from other websites/search results in determining the sitelinks to put in your ads.

      Nice catch.