Display URL in Adwords Headlines: Early CTR Results

8 Comments Written on May 31st, 2011 by
Categories: Google Adwords

I have to say I haven’t really been a fan of the appearance of the Adwords ads Google now shows in the above-the-SERPs positions that include the display URL in an “extended headline”.  Personally I think it strongly detracts from the power of your headlines if you’re using great headline ad copy and overall looks a bit ‘blah’, especially now that they’ve also squashed the capitalization in display URLs.

For those not aware of the change, in certain circumstances when your ad appears above the SERPs, Google will add your display URL to the headline likeso:

That looks great if your headline says something utterly boring like “Google Adwords” as they have here, but if your headlines don’t suck it’s pretty gross-looking.  That said, Google did do some testing before rolling this out as many search-watchers reported, and assumably it garnered higher CTRs.

This apparently started rolling out globally around May 17th, so I thought I’d wait a bit and see the effect it had (or didn’t have) on CTRs in one of my larger client accounts.

Some Early CTR Test Results

Here’s an example of a highly navigational, one-word query where my ad shows in position 1.1 almost all of the time, and I’ve confirmed Google is using the new display URL format in the ad (note: no changes to ads, keywords, or bids were made during any of these periods):

Before May 18th, on 5000 clicks: 5.17% CTR

Over 5000 navigational clicks since May 18th: 5.64% CTR

Roughly a 9% lift in CTR (Note: Not a lift TO 9% CTR)

Here’s an example of another randomly selected adgroup where the query is not really navigational in nature, but still only a two-word query (again in position 1):

Before May 18th, over 5000 clicks: 8.23% CTR

Across 5000 clicks since May 18th: 5.76% CTR

A 31% drop in CTR.

One more non-navigational, non-brand two-word query (position 1):

Before May 18th, on 5000 clicks: 3.43% CTR

Over 5000 clicks since May 18th: 2.86% CTR

A 17% drop in CTR.

So if CTR Doesn’t Climb, Why Make This Change?

Overall, when I look at these results, I’m made to wonder if the change was adopted by Google not because it lifts CTR, but because, as they say in their announcement blog post, “Potential customers, on the other hand, will be able to more easily identify the site to which they’ll be taken after they click on your ad.”

Could it be that the FTC and other governmental bodies are pressuring Google to be more clear about where a user will be going when they click an Adwords ad?  This corresponds quite coincidentally with Google’s recent push for more disclosure by Adwords advertisers on their landing pages.

Of course, these are random, anecdotal CTR results, but I hadn’t seen anyone post their stats on this yet, so I thought I’d see if we could get the ball rolling and get PPC marketers to share what they’re seeing.

What are you seeing in your accounts with this change?  Do you think these new headlines dilute the value of good-quality headline writing?

Share your thoughts in the comments!



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8 comments “Display URL in Adwords Headlines: Early CTR Results”


Just noticed the same thing… and agree. Looks like poorly written copy, when the ad is fine, it’s just Google formatting.

>>easily identify the site

If that is true, what is the Display URL for? Now we have the “display” twice in the same ad…

This is mostly opinion, but I think Users already scan the display before clicking. I think headline is most important… but I know I personally take a look at the display for an idea of what site I’m going to. If I’ve already been there, I’ll skip that click. I bet many users did this even before this change…


Any data on brand queries? Obviously, that doesn’t undo the damage (and they usually have great CTR anyway), but I’m just curious.

I could see this lowering CTRs for those bidding on competitor’s branded terms more than anything.

Yeah, I figure that Google is going after traditional media “brand” metrics. Big brands that used to run on Radio and TV will now be able to justify higher CPC’s/CPM’s with the brand lift.

Basically, in 6 months, Nielsen will have a study about how aggressive PPC campaigns being in the top 3 positions (where they get the domain name in the ad) achieve brand lift.

This will get Google the big bucks from the big advertisers, while the small little guys are just gonna stay small.

Our suggestion to our clients is to get conversion rates/ROI metrics in line, so they can dominate their niche.

PPC is going to be a winner takes all game 🙁

Now who would do something like that:)

I’m actually quite a fan of the appearance of the URL in the headline and from the monitoring that I have performed there has been quite a boost in CTR (although this is largely around branded terms). 

I suppose for those who don’t like the format you should be attempting to format your ads with the extended headline so that the URL can’t show in the ad. I’m not sure how much longer Google will allow the avoidance of the format though. 

Thanks very much for your time and effort in this blog. PPC blog is the most informative blog in this category. I’ve been subscribed for some time and love that every post is laden with new information.

One interesting thing I’ve noticed since the change back in May is that CTR is actually up for ads with shorter domain names (under 6 characters) and down for ads with longer domain names (over 6 characters).

In that, I agree with David Jaeger about the change being profitable for Google as big media brands with short recognizable domains names will have greater brand recognition.

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