Search ads get visual - is the expense worth it?

PPC experts are soon going to have to ask when and where paying extra for a video or picture in a search advert is going to make sense.

Search is about to get a lot more visual. In addition to poring over spreadsheets of results and interrogating their platforms for best-performing keyword searches, PPC experts are soon going to have to ask when and where paying extra for a video or picture in a search advert is going to make sense.


Bing already offers a fully commercial Rich Ads In Search (RAIS) service and Google followed suit in June, announcing the beta of Google AdWords Image Extensions.


The premise is very simple. In addition to a site link, an advertiser achieving top spot can pay extra to display a picture or video. Bing’s service is currently limited to brand search terms whereas Google’s upcoming equivalent would appear to be extended to generic keywords as well.


The big question on everyone’s lips, then, is whether it’s worth paying the extra? According to Malthe Jamie Karlson, PPC strategist at UK digital marketing agency Latitude Group, the answer is a resounding yes. He has been investigating results and claims that although CPC rates are understandably higher, the fact that Bing restricts the service to brand terms means that the hike comes from a base much lower than hotly competed-for generic keywords.


“We’ve been looking at our figures and have calculated that click-through rates go up from around 17% to 33%,” he says. “So our average click was costing us 5p on brand terms and, although this went up to 15p with a video, the extra clicks we received meant that overall CPC was lower than if we had run a campaign on generic terms. We think we also saw an encouraging lift in conversions; it’s not always possible to be completely positive that this was down to the video adverts, but we think it played a leading role.”


One of the additional benefits of rich media search results adverts is that they offer, in the case of Bing, four additional links. So, while the video on display may show a sunny beach and a luxury hotel, the links below can be used to flag up different promotions and special offers . This, according to Karlson, is a massive factor supporting the use of video adverts. While the moving image does all it can to sell the brand attributes of the holiday/movie/house/event being advertised, the addition of four promotional links offer a variety of calls to action which are not available in text PPC campaigns.


Cost of generics


There remains a large question mark over whether paying extra with generic terms will work out to be financially viable.


Due to Google’s beta only just being announced most agencies are only now in the process of getting interested clients ‘white listed’ so they can participate in the beta and so there is not a reasonable amount of deep data to dive in to get results.


The basis on which Bing’s RAIS makes sense is that it offers improved click-through rates as well as four additional links. This will undoubtedly be the same for brand search terms with Google’s Ad Words Image Extensions. However, paying top price for a generic search result and then paying extra still to display a picture or video could well prove too high a fee for all bar the deepest pockets.


Pete Whitmarsh, head of PPC at search marketing company Search Laboratory, reveals clients who are just starting out with Image Extensions are seeing a “positive impact on overall ROI”. Clients using Bing’s RAIS have similarly seen a lift, he reveals, although he believes that, as a whole, videos should be viewed as adding to the search advertising experience and are not necessarily going to deliver on ROI every time because of the uplift in CPC rates.


It is early days for Google’s Beta but experts believe its main impact will be inflated generic PPC rates which will open up a beauty parade for visual paid-for search results where only high margin, luxury goods and services will be found.


A judgement on the ROI of such campaigns will eventually be possible once the AdWords Image Extensions service is made more widely available. What is very clear, though, is only brands with big budgets and very enticing pictures or videos should consider the new bidding process which, as ever, will see CPC rates for many generic terms shoot through the roof.


For those, however, who want to form a halfway house between brand and generic campaigns, video will continue to be a viable means of paying more to offer visual impact backed up by additional promotional links which may have been more expensive to secure had a relevant hotly-contested generic term been bid on.

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