Testing Google+ +Post ads in the Wild
Two weeks ago Google+ finally moved its +Post ads product out of beta and made it available to any Google+ brand page with at least 1000 followers. Stone Temple Consulting immediately launched a series of test ads to see how +Post ads would perform for us. This article will present our initial findings.
What are +Post ads?
Google+ +Post ads are a new type of advertising via Google’s AdWords advertising platform. Inside of AdWords, these ads are called “Engagement Ads.” +Post ads are actual Google+ posts from a Google+ brand page that the brand can pay to have pushed out into Google’s Display Advertising Network. The DAN places ads on millions of websites across the Internet, using Google’s AdSense program that allows website owners to share in revenue from Google ads that get clicks on their sites.
The most unique feature about +Post ads is that when a web page visitor clicks the ad or hovers her mouse over it for more than 2 seconds, the ad expands into an embed of the full, original Google+ post to which it is linked. Once expanded, the post is fully interactive, with all the functionality of the actual Google+ post. Any viewer can, for example, click any links in the post, or scroll to read the entire post and any comments. If the viewer has a Google+ account and happens to be logged in at the moment, then she can engage with the post in all the same ways she could if she were viewing it on the Google+ platform.
The viewer can share the post, +1 it, and comment on it. All of those actions will instantly be reflected on the original post on Google+. The advertiser can set up an campaign that either displays certain selected eligible posts, or they can allow AdWords to automatically update an ad with the most recent eligible post from the advertisers Google+ page.
Not all posts are eligible for +Post ads. Link sharing posts are not eligible (although the post body can certainly link out to any web page), and the post must have an image or video embedded that is big enough to appear full-column width in the Google+ stream.
How do +Post ads Appear on Sites?
Initially on a website a +Post ad looks very much like a regular banner ad. The ads are available in all the different size formats used on Google’s Display Ad Network. The advertiser is unable to edit or alter the appearance of the unexpanded banner. It is auto-created from certain elements in the post being advertised.
Elements of a Google+ +Post Ad Banner Display (keyed to image above) The example above shows the 300 x 250 banner ad configuration. A +Post Ad banner ad contains the following:
- Brand logo (taken from the avatar image of the brand page)
- Brand name (the name of the Google+ brand page)
- Post title (the first line of the post linked to the ad. NOTE: The space for this title is very limited, especially in the narrower ad formats. Keep post titles short for posts you want to use as +Post ads.
- Image (the image or video embedded with the original post)
- Social proof thumbnail. This may only appear if the viewer is logged in to Google+. If anyone in his network has +1’ed the post, their avatar may show here.
- Reshares (number of reshares of the original post on Google+)
- Hover to Expand button
Other Banner Ad Size Examples Here is the same ad displayed above in the 300 x 250 format in the other available formats: 728 x 90 (not actual size)
160 x 600 (Notice that this format adds some features, such as the first body words of the post, the name of the friend who engaged with it, and more social share details.)
320 x 50 (Mobile ad format. Not shown here: this format actually rotates back and forth animated-GIF style between the display shown below and a display of the social shares of the post.)
Expanded Ad Here’s what the +Post ad above looks like when a user clicks or hovers it and it expands. If the post is long and/or has comments, only part may be visible, but the viewer can scroll down to view the rest:
Our Test of +Post Ads
Over the past two weeks we have tested three different Google+ posts with +Post ads. Here are the posts tested:
- 7 Modern Age SEO Myths – A post promoting an article by Eric Enge appearing on the Forbes site.
- Digital Marketing Answers Hangout Show on “How to Promote Google+ Posts” – A post promoting an upcoming episode of our weekly live Hangout show.
- 5 Keys to SEO Success – A post promoting an interview with Bing’s Duane Forrester published here on this blog.
We ran #1 and #2 fairly short term. #1, while getting good CTR (click-through rate) did not seem to be driving any engagement with the post. We wanted to see if a different post might get some engagement. #2 was avance promotion for a live show, so once the show had aired we stopped running it. We made use of both the keyword and topical targeting options available for Google Display Ads. All three ads were targeted at SEO and search marketing-related keywords and topics, and we did do some site placement exclusions on each ad as placement data became available in order to prune out irrelevant sites.
Metrics for Each of the Test Ads
At this point, inside of AdWords, Engagement Ads have all the same metrics that any other display ad would have. However, they lack some of the specific metrics we’d most like to see, particularly actual engagement with the posts in the ads. For now, it is left to us to watch for any discernible increase in engagement on the post during the run of the ad, and then to make our best guess as to how much, if any, of that engagement was being driven by the ad. Here are the most pertinent raw metrics for each of our test ads:
|7 Seo Myths||120||2||1.67||$2.07|
|How to Promote Google+ Posts||2833||77||2.72||$0.49|
|5 Keys to SEO Success||8737||374||4.28||$0.66|
- Impressions = number of times the ad was displayed on web pages.
- Clicks = In the case of Engagement Ads, “clicks” are anything that expands the ad to the Google+ post, which includes both clicking on the ad and hovering over the ad for more than 2 seconds
- CTR = Click Through Rate, in this case the number of times the ad was expanded divided by the number of impressions
- CPC – Cost Per Click, the average cost charged for each click on our ads
Evaluation of Results
Obviously our test is limited in size and scope at this point. But we’ve now run our ads for much longer than the much-publicized test by SEER Interactive so we think ours has given the ads enough of a “fair shake” to make at least some preliminary statements about them. Of course it should be noted that we have only run three different ads so far.
Perhaps even more important, all our ads were targeted at one business vertical (our own). It is likely that performance for these types of ads, like any others, will vary by vertical and targeting options.
+Post ads CTR
The first metric that stood out not only to us but to other people we’ve talked with who are testing +Post ads is the unusually high CTR compared to traditional banner ads on the Display Network, where click-through rate is typically under 1%, and very often 0.5% or lower. As you can see from the chart above, our test ads experienced overall average CTR’s of between 1.67% and 4.28%. The best performing “5 Keys to SEO Success” ad had one day this past week where CTR for the day was over 9%!
+Post ads by Click Type
Remember that in the case of Engagement Ads, a “click” is anything that expands the ad into its full form. In the case of +Post ads, that’s either a click on the ad or a 2-second mouse hover. In the AdWords interface you can segment the clicks for these ads by three types of clicks: headline, expansion (click), and expansion (hover).
The two expansion clicks are obvious in their meaning. A “headline” click is someone clicking directly on the title of the ad, which in this case would be the post title. For all three of our test ads, hover expansions were responsible for the overwhelming majority of the ad opens. We actually saw only a handful of click expansions and headline clicks over the entire two weeks.
We could guess that this is likely due to the prominence of the bright blue “Hover to Expand” call to action (CTA) button on these ads. Most viewers have probably never seen an engagement ad before, so we’re guessing that part of the reason for high CTR on these ads is the novelty. Viewers may feel like more tempted to try out such an unusual CTA to see what it does.
+Post ads Engagement
The very fact that +Post ads are classified as “engagement ads” within AdWords would lead one to believe that causing engagement with the advertised Google+ post might be a major goal. Yet as of this writing, there is no direct way to measure such engagement. There are no metrics we have been able to discover, either in AdWords or Google Analytics, to segment out +1’s, reshares, or comments that came from viewers seeing the post in a +Post ad. So we are left to guess.
We don’t believe that we saw any significant increase in engagement with the posts during the test period that couldn’t be chalked up to the normal levels of engagement we get on Google+. This could be due to a number of factors, including:
- The likely novelty factors of these ads, meaning that many people may be opening them just to see what they do, rather than to specifically see the content.
- Many ad viewers may not be Google+ users (necessary to engaging with the ad post).
- Many of those who are Google+ users may not be logged in to their accounts at the time they view the ad post (also necessary to any engagement).
- Some who view the expanded ads may not be aware that it is an actual live Google+ post with which they can engage. This is the effect of seeing a familiar thing in an unfamiliar place.
Perhaps surprisingly, in a video interview with Stone Temple Consulting’s Eric Enge (embedded at the end of this post), +Post ads product marketing manager Christian Ashlock said that though engagement with the post might be nice, it was not necessarily a primary goal in Google’s mind when designing the product, hence the lack of engagement metrics in AdWords. Ashlock said that in their beta tests with major brand partners, they found the primary benefit from +Post ads to be driving awareness of existing brand campaigns. In particular, he noted the effectiveness of Post ads with short video trailers driving people to a brand’s viral video campaign, and driving up views by the hundreds of thousands.
Ashlock’s de-emphasis of direct post engagement was interesting to hear, because the opposite seems to be implied in this Google promo video for Toyota’s beta test of +Post ads:
In that promo the Toyota spokespeople continually emphasize the “conversations” driven by their +Post ads. Though probably simulated, they even illustrate in the video consumers expanding their ad and then plussing and adding comments to the expanded post. Why did they get engagement when we didn’t?
One reason might be that Toyota’s budget and targeting, and therefore reach, were many times larger than ours. That would make it much more likely that their posts would actually be seen by active Google+ users who happened to be logged in to their accounts at the time they came across the ad. Of course, it is also possible that Toyota’s ads were better optimized for engagement than ours, or just the fact that Toyota is a much more widely recognized brand.
+Post ads as Traffic Drivers
The other thing we wanted to test was the ability of a +Post ad to drive actual traffic to our web site. The post shown at the top of this article was created specifically for that purpose. It has an image and title bound to catch the attention of the SEO and search marketing audience to which its ad would be targeted. It also has a very brief “teaser” paragraph for quick reading, and to get the prominent call to action (“Click here to read now!“) above the fold in the expanded ad. For reference, here it is again:
As seen in the metrics table shown previously, this +Post ad had a significantly higher CTR than our other test ads. But did it drive traffic? Did people who expanded the ad click the link and visit the linked page on our site?
According to our Google Analytics, over 100 visits to the landing page linked in the post came from the post above, but none of those came via AdWords. Of course, we’re assuming here that clicks on a link in an expanded +Post ad post are tracked as AdWords click-throughs. It is possible that they are not, due to the unique nature of the link being inside a live Google+ post. So, we don’t actually know for certain if the ad drove any click throughs. We’re next going to test a video to see if we can drive video views up.
I’m calling this final section “tentative” conclusions because, admittedly, the tests here are very limited in scope. Still, they are the most extensive testing by a small brand to date of which we are aware. According to Google, their beta tests with major brands were very successful, and the brands were pleased with the returns they got from those ads. We are inclined to believe Google. If the beta ads were complete flops, or even seriously flawed, it is unlikely they would have gone ahead with rolling the product out to the broader public.
Based on our testing so far, we will put forth the following tentative conclusions. We’ll continue to test different forms of these ads, and will update this post if we see any significant variations.
- It appears to be tougher for a smaller brand to drive post engagement with +Post ads than a larger brand. However, engagement may not be the only (or even the best) goal for such ads.
- The high CTR of these ads means that they may be a good investment for brands looking mostly for increased brand exposure. Arguably, that’s the chief use of display ads anyway, given their traditional very low CTR’s. The fact that the viewer has an interactive experience with the ad (even if only performing the hover and watching as the ad expands into the post) means that viewers who at least hover the ad are probably more engaged with it than with a typical banner ad.
- Small brands will need to do extensive experimenting with different post types, different targeting, and different content to see what works for them.
- Unfortunately, smaller brands typically do not have the advertising budgets of larger brands. It may be difficult for them to justify spending money on a lot of experimentation when they can’t be sure of the results.
- Google needs to provide more extensive and detailed metrics that would give advertisers a better feel for whether their ads are doing anything for them other than being opened.