Blog | Paid Media

Paid Search Pitfalls and Solutions: Ad Extension Reporting

February 27, 2018
Reading Time: 5 minutes

BFO PPC Pitfalls and Solutions

Ad extensions are fairly easy to set up, but understanding which ones to keep and which ones to replace using data can be tricky. In the fourth and final article of our Paid Search Pitfalls and Solutions series, we’re digging into the limitations of the standard ad extension reporting and walking through a better alternative that’s free and already available within the AdWords platform.

The Importance of Ad Extensions

Every SEM marketer knows that using ad extensions to show additional information below paid search ads is helpful. After all, the more extensions you have shown, the more space your ads take up on the search engine results page, enticing searchers to click your ads instead of a competitor’s. Ad Extensions also give searchers options to travel directly to popular pages on your site with sitelinks, provide competitive differentiators through callout extensions and structured snippets, or even share contact and location info with call and location extensions. On top of all these benefits, ad extensions help your ads show in higher positions due to their positive impact on Ad Rank as well as historic CTR, which is the main component of quality score.

Put simply, using ad extensions almost universally helps you get more clicks on your ads and pay less per click, making them a powerful tool for any paid search advertiser.

We could go on for pages about effective ad extension strategies and implementation tips, but I want to focus on a few particular pitfalls that trip up even the most seasoned paid search veterans: reporting on ad extensions. We’ve already covered how ad extensions are helpful in general, but how can you determine which ones are working better than the rest? How can you effectively test different sitelinks to determine which ones to keep and which ones to pause? How can you measure the impact of callout extensions which never actually get clicked? We’ll walk through the answers to these questions and more, but first, let’s look at the wrong way to report on ad extensions.

Ad Extension Pitfalls

One of the biggest misconceptions when looking at the ad extensions tab is that the number of clicks appearing alongside an extension such as a sitelink is the number of times that sitelink has been clicked for a given date range. For example, in the screenshot below, it would be reasonable to assume that the sitelink in the first row earned 3,993 clicks, but that’s not actually the case. In reality, ads with that sitelink showing got clicked 3,993 times, but the number of times that sitelink was actually clicked is unknown from this viewpoint.

Ad Extensions - BFO

The information in this screenshot can still be useful, though, since we see that ads get clicked at a greater rate when featuring the 3rd sitelink (18.27% CTR) than any other sitelink we’re running, so we could conclude that the 3rd sitelink is the most beneficial to our marketing efforts. While this may be true, it’s important to note that this information is directional at best and several other factors could be influencing these results.

For example, if the 3rd sitelink is only used for certain campaigns and those campaigns have the best CTR on average, then it would be the strong campaigns causing the high CTR for the 3rd sitelink, not the sitelink itself. Another example could be the time the sitelinks were added to the account. If the 3rd sitelink was added most recently and the account has improved significantly since the other sitelinks were added, we would expect the 3rd sitelink to have the best performance as result of this timing. In this case, we have about the same number of clicks per sitelink, so that’s probably not the case, but acknowledging these limitations of standard Ad extension reporting is important for avoiding faulty conclusions.

So what can be done to get around directional insights if there are too many factors impacting your extension performance? The key is to segment the data by “This Extension vs. Other.”

How to Use “This Extension vs. Other”

Paid Media Segment - BFO

From this view, we can see performance data for when an extension was actually clicked compared to when an ad was clicked with the extension showing. If we revisit the data for the 1st and 3rd sitelinks using this segmentation, we get the following metrics:

New Metrics - BFO

In the first example above, we saw that the 1st and 3rd sitelink didn’t show a large variation in CTR, so it would be easy to assume that each sitelink performed about as well as the other one. When we look at the newly-segmented data above, comparing results for sitelinks 1 and 3, we see that the 3rd sitelink actually gets clicked more than 10 times as much as the 1st sitelink and drives 4 times as many conversions, making it a much more valuable sitelink.

Hopefully, this example illustrates how important the “This Extension vs. Other” reporting segmentation is when analyzing ad extension performance. If the client were to test a new sitelink and was looking for which sitelink to remove, they would now be armed with important information about how valuable the 3rd sitelink is.

That’s not to say that using the standard ad extension reporting is never useful, but that going one step further using the method described above can yield even stronger insights. For non-clickable extensions such as callout extensions, the “This Extension vs. Other” segmentation doesn’t reveal any more information, so the standard reporting needs to be used instead. Just pay attention to other factors, such as time of implementation and which campaigns the sitelinks are added to when analyzing performance to ensure accurate conclusions about why an extension is performing better than another.

Paid search reporting and optimization can be challenging, but understanding and avoiding common pitfalls is a great way to reach your or your clients’ business goals. We will be concluding our Paid Search Pitfalls and Solutions series, for now, to focus on other helpful content, but check out our BlogFacebook, and Linkedin pages for past pitfalls and future articles! Like the way we think? Contact Us here to work with us or visit our Careers Page to browse open positions.