Quick Case Study: Google’s Mobile Ad Update Effect on AdWords

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Quick Case Study: Google’s Mobile Ad Update Effect on AdWords

In late September 2013 on Google’s 15th birthday, the search giant made an announcement that they were changing the appearance of their mobile and tablet search ads. The most noticeable change is the use of ‘results cards’ on the results page making it much more obvious that sponsored listings are ‘ads’ and organic listings are not.


According to a recent study done by Bunnyfoot research, 40% of users had no clue which listings were ‘paid’ and which were ‘organic’. To read more about this theory, check out Jessica Lee’s post on Search Engine Watch called Organic vs. Paid Listings: Do Users Know the Difference? Please keep in mind, the above research was done previous to the rollout of the new SERP appearance for mobile and tablet devices. Now that users are more aware that the sponsored listings are indeed ‘ads’, will this affect the number of users that click and convert? 

Although it’s early, I went ahead and looked at seven accounts that invest in both mobile and tablets somewhat significantly for search network campaigns only, to see if users are reacting different to the new ad appearance. And the results…does the new ‘ad’ look negatively impact click-through rate and even conversion rate as one might hypothesize? Well, it depends.

There were outliers where we saw either a negative impact or even a positive impact. However; most of the time, the change was not very significant for either CTR and conversion rate. Here’s the overall change across all accounts: Has Google’s Mobile Ad Update Affected Your AdWords Campaigns? [Here’s the above data in text form]

Mobile Devices:

CTR Change: -14.82%
Conversion Rate Change: -.80%
Tablet Devices:

CTR Change: -12.70%
Conversion Rate Change: -6.21%

One thing to note as it completely impacted the study is there was one outlier client (financial services industry) that has taken a pretty big hit after the update went live:
Mobile Devices:
CTR Change: -126.98%
Conversion Rate Change: -3.92%
Tablet Devices:
CTR Change: -203.30%
Conversion Rate Change: -33.33%

This makes sense. Financial services deal with extremely personal and secure information and people’s money. It could also speak to the generation that is most commonly looking for financial-related products and services. If they now see an ‘ad’ and are now aware it’s an ad (which they possibly did not realize before the update), they don’t trust it and are avoiding even clicking it.

How has the mobile and tablet SERP update impacted your campaigns? Have you seen it more for certain industries than others? I’d love to hear more about this.

My last thought—we all know Google tested this change before releasing it. Maybe they did not see much of a difference so they went through with it. Or perhaps, the ‘ad’ marking attracts more users’ eyes vs. the organic listings and are clicking more often. What are your thoughts on this change?

Image credit: Google.com screenshot taken 11/07/13, Infographic created by Search Engine Journal.com

Joe Castro
Joe Castro is the Director of Online Advertising at Fathom, a digital marketing & analytics agency. He has worked at Fathom since January 2008 with... Read Full Bio
Joe Castro
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  • Maoz

    How come you consider a decrease of 12-15% in CTR “not very significant”? This may translate to a decrease in traffic and sales.
    Furthermore, how can that specific client see a decrease of more than 100% in CTR? This means a negative CTR…