How The Google Game is Changing For Good

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In 2008, an SEO vendor claimed that he saw a big brand hand a check to Google in exchange for high organic rankings. I no longer believe him.

Google insists that there is no connection between the paid and organic teams and that it’s not possible to buy organic rankings directly.

Still, I get asked constantly if spending more money with Google will help them rank better.

The Search community has been pretty clear that this is not the case, although I have made the argument that you can leverage paid search to earn links. You can also make the case that more paid search will increase branded search impressions and also potentially lead to higher click through rates on other generic organic listings.

I discovered something really interesting that may actually paint a different picture.

It’s possible that your organic rankings can actually help your PPC become cheaper. In other words…

Google actually makes it cheaper to advertise when your rank well organically.

Here’s a quick crash course in how Google Ads pricing works. Every time someone searches, an auction takes place to choose which ads will show up and in what position on the page. This is calculated with a formula called, “Ad Rank.” While Google’s Ad Rank formula is a black box to us advertisers, they do share a historical guesstimate called, “Quality Score.”

Here is what Google says about Ad Rank (among other things.)

When calculating Ad Rank, we look at the search terms the person has entered, the person’s location at the time of the search, the type of device they’re using (e.g., mobile or desktop), the time of the search, the nature of the search terms, other ads and search results that show on the page, and other user signals and attributes.

Now for some conjecture:

Google wants to maximize revenue from each user and each search. This means they need to strike a balance with 3 things.

  • They need to make sure the user comes back and does many more searches. They cannot risk pushing a searcher to start using Bing or Duck Duck Go because they served irellevant or malicious results.
  • They need to make sure they capture as much of the value as possible from the advertiser that earns the click.
  • They need to make sure ads are profitable for their advertisers so they continue to advertise and spend more money.

Google tries to balance these three objectives by anticipating and understanding the goals and intent of each and every searcher and help that user find what they are looking for as quickly as possible.

In a perfect world a user would find exactly what they are looking for as quickly as possible by clicking on the very first ad they see.

In a less than perfect world, that user would find exactly what they are looking for in any listing on the page.

In an even less than ideal world, that user will click on an ad that earns Google the most money, but may not find what they need and will hit the back button to search again.

If you look, you will notice that the search results change when you click back. This is Google attempting to predict what your intent is and what you would search next.

In this scenario, you may think Google earns more because you search more, but in fact it hurts them in two ways.

First, that advertiser now wasted money that will impact how much they spend on that search term in the future, and it also hurt Google because the user may now try to search on Duck Duck Go, or just not search that term again on Google and instead look for another way to find that answer, like asking for a recommendation in a Facebook Group.

Ultimately though, Google’s primary goal is for you to find what you are looking for as quickly as possible. This means Google is always trying to predict which listing is most likely to Earn The Click (outside of results where you don’t click through to a website.)

We already know that the Ad Rank formula considers the relative click through rate by position of each advertiser, to help understand which ad is the most valuable to show in which position. But, now we are being told that Ad Rank can also consider how organic listings and features will impact your ad being clicked.

The way Ad Rank works is it assigns a score of 1-10 of how likely your Ad, Landing Page, and overall experience will meet the users intent, and than takes your maximum bid price, and creates a numerical ranking of where you should show up relative to the other advertisers. This main factor is going to be Expected Click Through Rate, how likely your landing page will serve the end user, and the overall experience of opening the page (i.e. load times, etc…) based on your position on the page, and all the other signals Google feeds into their machine learning, including the organic listings. This number than determines how much money you will actually pay.

If Google believes that your ad has a better shot of being clicked than any other link on the page, you will pay less than other advertisers.

Since the organic listings don’t directly earn Google any revenue, the best way to predict what will get the click on the ad side, is the pages that Google decides to rank organically for that same search.

There have also been studies around branded search showing advertisers get more click share when they appear in both the paid and organic listings.

Here’s the big takeaway.

The search terms that Google considers relevant to your page organically, even if you aren’t ranking on the first page yet, are likely the highest ad rank in your account.

Google will continue to invest in understanding query intent and their machine learning will get more and more accurate. Fundamentally, what this means is that your website and content, is the single most important detail to optimize.

Google already has Dynamic Search Ads, which can let you advertise based on the organic relevance of specific pages to specific intents and queries, without choosing the keywords to target.

They also have automated bidding around any number of goals you setup.

They also have Responsive Search Ads meant to dynamically use the ad elements most likely to drive the click or performance.

SEO was once a Tactic Game & Now it’s a “Helping Users with Content” Game.

Google Ads is now moving away from a targeting & bidding game and into a “Helping Users with Content Game.”

The action items for this is easy to talk about but very hard to do.

  1. Invest your time in understanding and serving your users with as much utility as possible, across their buying journey.
  2. Make sure you are tracking the right business goals or proxy metrics as conversions, so the algorithms can optimize your reach.

One Final note: As your cost per end result improves, your cost per earlier metric will get worse and worse. So, as your CTR improves, your CPM gets worse, and as your CPA improves your CPC will get worse. This is simply because you are eliminating wasteful impressions and clicks, as are your competitors, and the more expensive placements, positions, ads, etc… will become more and more competitive.

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About David Melamed

David Melamed is the Founder of Tenfold Traffic, a search and content marketing agency with over $30,000,000 of paid search experience and battle tested results in content development, premium content promotion and distribution, Link Profile Analysis, Multinational/Multilingual PPC and SEO, and Direct Response Copywriting.

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