Expanded Text Ad Format and its Implications for Pharma
Hot on the heels of removing text ads from the right rail of desktop search results and consistent with Google’s ambitions to standardize the search experience across devices, Google plans to introduce a new ad format for paid search text ads called Expanded Text Ad (ETA). This POV from CPM covers details about the update and implications of the format on FDA-compliant pharmaceutical advertising.
Google will be testing a new expanded ad format featuring (i) significantly longer headlines; (ii) descriptions that are both longer and more versatile than currently possible, and (iii) display base URLs auto-extracted from the destination domain. ETAs will be composed of two 30-character headlines fields that can be strung together as a single headline of 60 characters, a display URL, and a single 80-character description line:
Expanded Text Ad format (Desktop and mobile experience)
Current Ad format
In comparison to ETAs, the current format not only has a lower total character limit for “description” copy (70 characters vs. 80), but also requires dividing the description between two lines, sometimes further reducing available space if the copy in Line #1 falls short of the 35 characters allowed.
Between headline and description, the ETA format supports a combined total of up to 140 characters – exactly equivalent to a tweet, and 47.4% more characters than the existing format allows.
The implementation of a single 80-character description line also gives Google an edge vs Bing and Yahoo, whose ads support a single 70-character line into which essentially the same description text as Google’s current two 35-character lines can be slotted.
While the base domain of the Display URL will be auto-extracted from the destination page, two custom “Path” parameters will be available to append to the domain name at the keyword level, allowing for extended URLs that are even more specific to the search term.
- ETAs can appear in any position on any device – their widened horizontal footprint is made possible on desktops by Google’s recent search results page layout change, effectively eliminating ad placement along the narrower right rail. They will be eligible to show on Google.com and its search partner network, as well as the Google Display Network. Ad extensions such as Sitelinks and Callouts are not affected.
Implications and Opportunities for Combination and Boxed Warning Products
Expanded Text Ads present a significant opportunity with respect to campaigns supporting combination drugs (having two or more drugs combined into a single dosage form) and boxed warning products, both of which require verbiage that can be difficult to fit within limited character constraints. Best SEM practice for combination drugs typically displays the commercial name followed by each associated generic name, separated by the “/” or “-“ symbol, and black box drugs must identify as such and alert the user to the associated warnings. The result is often ads that consist of nothing other than the product name and/or the warning, if they can be executed at all. Google’s new ETA format offers invaluable extra space in both cases.
Bing and Yahoo have traditionally kept pace with Google’s format changes, but until they mirror Google’s recent significant changes to layout and ad format, branded ads for combination and boxed warning products will have far more flexibility on Google.
Implications and Opportunities for Unbranded Advertising and Disease State Education (DSE) Sites
The currently-proposed incarnation of Expanded Text Ads does not allow for a display URL replacement for unbranded-to-branded ads. Since FDA-regulated ads cannot show a branded URL with unbranded ad copy, URL replacement function is necessary for pharmaceutical companies to advertise. The proposed new ad format does not yet have such a mechanism, which has fueled some concern about the status of unbranded-to-branded SEM.
Before any future mandate to exclusively use ETA could be feasible, Google must first reconfigure their current construction to serve the needs of pharmaceutical advertisers. Otherwise, it would represent a reversal from the very recently-introduced fixed text option for the current ad format. Unbranded-to-branded ads that previously used a vanity URL to redirect to the branded destination now use fixed text such as “Prescription Treatment Website.” It’s unlikely Google would abandon such a large and recent initiative by mandating an incompatible ad format, effectively foregoing all revenue from all unbranded-to-branded pharmaceutical advertising.
This leaves pharma in a singular position with respect unbranded-to-branded advertising – campaigns are left intact, but unable to capitalize on the additional real estate ETAs provide. No such constraints exist for disease state education (DSE) sites, which can freely display their root destination URL in ads and leverage the new 140-character format. Given the vastly greater messaging flexibility unbranded ads offer to begin with, CPM is advising that all brands consider these changes when weighing the calculus for investment in disease state education (DSE) sites in 2017.
Timetable and Action Steps
Although Google initially indicated that closed beta testing of Expanded Text Ads would begin in May, they have since updated that to Q3 2016 (month not specified). All subsequent stages of rollout have been pushed back by the same increment, so full launch to all advertisers will likely come in early 2017. Once that happens, the expanded format will be an additional option to the current format.
Google clarifies that there are no plans to retire the current ad format, and there is no planned deadline when new ads cannot be created in the current format – as such, no critical action is necessary to continue advertising.
That said, upon full release of ETA, advertisers might expect to see elevated clickthrough rates (CTRs) for the longer ads conveying more information. As such, marketers and agencies should be prepared to create and test ads in the new format and closely monitor CTRs and traffic patterns from existing ads. Additionally, with paid search occupying more space on search results pages and garnering higher CTRs, organic traffic may be impacted negatively.
Support for the existing format could sunset at some point, but Google emphasizes that if such a change were to occur, it would be in the “distant” future. Nevertheless, CPM has advised Google that any such change would mandate that ETAs be modified to accommodate URL replacement for unbranded-to-branded campaigns.
Important recap for pharmaceutical advertisers:
- Google’s intention to “auto-extract” the display URL from the base domain of the destination URL for all ETAs renders it unusable for unbranded-to-branded pharma ads requiring Manufacturer or static Website Description display URLs such as those in use for unbranded SEM. The consolation for brands is that the current ad format is not being retired, at least for the foreseeable future – it will continue to be supported in conjunction with the new format.
- While not created specifically with the industry in mind, the format will create more space and flexibility for pharma to meet FDA requirements and best paid search practices associated with branded, combination and black box ads.
- Closed beta testing of the new format has been delayed to Q3 (month not specified) and full rollout will likely occur in early 2017. Based on past precedent for global changes to the engine, pharma advertisers will most likely not be included in Google’s closed beta testing.