PPC

Sitelinks: What Can They Do For Your Metrics?

Last November, Google introduced Ad Sitelinks, a feature enabling Adword’s users to add up to four additional links to their advertisement. Sitelinks gives advertisers an opportunity to direct traffic to multiple landing pages on their website, which will, according to Google, increase the infamous click-through-rate (CTR) on average by more than 30%.  The Sitelinks appear under the normal advertisement in list form, making the entire ad space larger.  Sitelinks have only been made available to branded campaigns thus far, and those campaigns meeting the following qualifications:

1. Your ad is in the first position above the search results

2. Your ad has a substantially higher CTR than any other ad on the page

3. Your ad site links URL direct users to pages that are part of your main site

As with any other new ad feature, tool, beta, mechanism, etc. we couldn’t help but conduct our own analysis to find out the true effect of this new Sitelinks phenomenon.  We know that Google promised an increase in CTR, but as professional online marketers, we couldn’t ignore sitelink’s impact on conversions, CPA, and overall cost.  Even though CTR does hold a strong place in our hearts, every marketer knows that clients would rather see an increase in conversions than CTR.

So, we dove right in.  Here at SEER, we launched Sitelinks for eight of our clients branded campaigns over the past year.  After letting the campaigns run for several months, we pulled reports for each campaign to uncover any apparent advantages or disadvantages of Sitelinks.  The success of the Sitelinks has been measured by each campaigns CTR, conversions, total cost, and CPA before and after the addition of Sitelinks.

Findings

CTR and Conversions

As shown in the table above, Sitelinks has proven to be most effective in improving CTR of each branded campaign.  After adding Sitelinks, all campaigns except Client 2, showed an increase in CTR ranging from anywhere from a 0.77% to an 80% increase.  After the implementation of Sitelinks, many of the campaigns experienced an increase in conversions; Client 1 saw a 189% increase.  Three out of the eight campaigns experienced a decrease in conversions.  While no one prefers to see any decrease in conversions, Client 6 only experienced a slight decrease of 0.34%.  Below you will see a graph of Client 1’s CTR vs. Conversions on a steady upward trend:

Cost and CPA

The addition of Sitelinks has triggered an unpredictable pattern in total cost.  About half of the campaigns experienced an increase in cost, regardless of change in CTR.  All clients except for clients 5 and 6 experienced a decrease in CPA after the development of Sitelinks.  The increase in CPA for these clients can be traced to their decrease in conversions.  For example, Client 4 experiences a 17% increase in conversions, and a resulting 6% decrease in CPA.

Analysis

After careful analysis in Adwords and Excel, it is evident that, once again, Google is correct! The implementation of Sitelinks has been most successful in increasing the CTR of branded campaigns across the majority of our clients.

But, why?

From a marketer’s perspective, Sitelinks epitomizes the two features desired most by customers:  control and efficiency.  The strong improvement in CTR suggests that users are more likely to click on ads when multiple landing page options are available. By utilizing Sitelinks, the user has more control over their landing page destination and can decrease navigation time through the desired website.  They know that if a Sitelinks says “about the product,” they will land on a page that tells them “about the product.”  Sitelinks improves efficiency of internet research and shopping, which the distracted consumer craves.

While it was exciting to see an increase in CTR for most of our clients, we couldn’t ignore the demise of other important metrics. Unfortunately, the increase in CTR did not correlate to an increase in conversions for all of the campaigns.  Even though three of our clients experienced an increase or maintained their CTR, they saw a decrease in conversions.  This decrease in conversions, however, does not necessarily indicate a lack of success in the campaign.  For example, even though one campaign experienced a drop in conversions after Sitelinks was added, both CTR and conversion rate remained constant.  Overall, users converted as frequently, but there were fewer clicks on advertisements.

Of course, when analyzing any search campaign, we cannot ignore outside or external factors. As professional marketers, we constantly tweak ad copy, battle sudden changes in budget, and adapt to landing page edits, etc.  Because of this, it is hard to blame a decrease in conversions on the addition of Sitelinks, or just one factor in general. The decrease in conversions experienced by those three campaigns can be attributed to a variety of reasons.  A few we’ve thought of specific to our test campaigns follow:

Appearance

We can’t lie – the ads with Sitelinks look a lot sweeter.  They’re larger and place at the top of the page,  generally an unbeatable combination for search success.  Because the ad incorporates different landing page options, it appears more similar to the organic searches – a possible reason as to why more users may initially be drawn to the site.  User’s who do not normally click on sponsored search ads may find this appearance more inviting and legitimate and click on these links more frequently than sponsored ads without Sitelinks. Unfortunately, while the ad does look cooler, it may be attracting more unqualified clicks mainly because it is overpowering, not necessarily because its product or service is more relevant.

Purchase Cycle and Decisions

Sometimes, a drop metrics really isn’t your fault. When analyzing metrics it is important to follow the news and note the purchase cycle and type of product or service offered.  Users searching for branded terms may only be in the research phase of the purchase cycle.  Additionally, depending on the type of product or service, cost, and commitment level, it may take the user a longer time to convert.  For example, Clients 5 and 6, located in the financial and education verticals, offer services which often require a lot of research and consideration before conversion.  Therefore, the user already may be looking for more general information about the brand, and not necessarily ready to convert right away.  Below you will see Client 5’s trend with an increase in CTR and decrease in Conversions:

Product/Service

Problems that may arise with the marketed product or service have the ability to negatively impact sales even with a successful PPC campaign.  As a marketer, our main job is to highlight the benefits of a client’s product or service in order to (hopefully) drive sales.  We have no control over the product features, the manufacturing, or regulations surrounding the product; all of which have the ability to positively or negatively affect sales.  For example, Client 7, located in the eCommerce vertical, relies on multiple manufacturers to consistently stock their supplies which they sell through the web.  Sometimes we must pause ads and ad groups due to delays in re-stock, which can obviously contribute to a decrease in sales.  Below you can see a graph of Client 7’s Conversions vs. CTR.  Although there was an overall increase in conversions, you can still see a few dips in conversions after the addition of Sitelinks in November 2009, which correlate to product/manufacturing issues:

Seasonality

Seasonality of a company’s products or services may have affected the decrease in conversions, especially for one of our clients.   Client 6, located in the educational vertical, added Sitelinks in December 2009, and saw a decrease in conversions through June.  This decline may relate more to the season and cycle of school applications rather than the addition of Sitelinks itself.  Check out a Google Insights search for the term “online colleges.” You can see the trend here follows a similar pattern – spiking in January, trending down toward summer, and re-spiking in August.  Below in a graph of Client 6’s CTR vs. Conversions, you will see a dip in conversions during the winter and spring months:

Branded Campaigns

Because this analysis was conducted online on branded campaigns, it is hard to evaluate the true impact of Sitelinks as we are working with an audience base that is already aware of the client and likely to know what it is they “need” on their website.

Like many Adword’s features, Google has revamped Site links. Sitelinks are now available across all campaigns.

So, the question arises – do we test this?

With the addition of Sitelinks, most of our client’s sites received the promised increase in CTR, although conversions did not necessarily improve as a direct result. Of course, various outside factors may have also played a role in all metrics. Overall, there did not appear to be any blatant disadvantages in enabling Sitelinks for branded campaigns. The key is to start off small, evaluate the strategy and if it works for you – expand it for greater success!