The pros and cons of Google shared endorsements

Will Google's incorporation of user reviews in advertisements pay off?

Published October 16, 2013 4:22PM (EDT)

Shared Endorsements are the latest in a line of updates that bring user reviews and ratings into the Google results. Announced earlier this week and coming to the SERPs in November, the newly expanded shared endorsements will allow reviews and +1’s from Google+ profiles to appear in the paid search results (not just organic).

For example, if someone searches for “hot springs in Colorado” and you reviewed a hot springs resort that has an ad on the first page for that keyword, your review (along with your name and Google profile image) might show up as part of the ad. Shared endorsements look like this (the one on the far right is an example of a shared endorsement appearing in a Google ad):

Google Shared Endorsements: Who Are the Real Winners and Losers? image google shared endorsements

Shared Endorsements: The Latest in a String of Ratings-Related Features

As I mentioned, this isn’t the first time that Google has introduced reviews and ratings into AdWords ads. Here’s a quick timeline of the release of these features:

Two years ago, Google released Social Extensions on AdWords. Social extensions allow advertisers to link their company Google+ page with their AdWords account. The goal was to allow searchers to see which of their friends had +1’ed the company’s ads. This feature failed because it was very, very rare for the annotations to ever show up, since:

  • The user had to be logged into Google+
  • The person’s friends needed to have +1’ed an ad or a company page that was showing up in the results

Since the chances of this were so low, Google added +1 buttons to both text and image ads – a dumb, desperate move. (Who would +1 an ad?! User clicks on ads that are relevant to them, but that doesn’t mean they even know it’s an ad or that they want to congratulate the company for successfully marketing to them.)

On Google Shopping, Google scrapes reviews from third-party sites. For example, on this SERP, the majority of the reviews come from Best Buy:

Google Shared Endorsements: Who Are the Real Winners and Losers? image shared endorsements google shopping

This allows Google to provide the social proof of user reviews and ratings – something users/consumers value highly – without requiring those reviews to have originated on a Google property.

Google reviews already showed up on Google Places results (for local searches like restaurants, as in the below SERP):

Google Shared Endorsements: Who Are the Real Winners and Losers? image google places reviews koreana

The next step was to introduce Review Extensions. AdWords review extensions allow businesses to take the matter of reviews into their own hands. Instead of letting Google dynamically add review data through Shopping or Places results, you can use this extension to manually add your own positive testimonials to your ads:

Google Shared Endorsements: Who Are the Real Winners and Losers? image adwords review extensions

With the new shared endorsements, Google is again expanding the pool of businesses that can include ratings and reviews in their ads and making it easier and more automatic.

How to Turn off Google Shared Endorsements

If having your face and reviews show up attached to other companies’ ads sounds like a violation of privacy, you can turn it off – here’s how:

  1. Sign into your Google account.
  2. Go to the Shared Endorsements setting page.
  3. Uncheck the box next to “Based upon my activity, Google may show my name and profile photo in shared endorsements that appear in ads.” Then click “Save.”

The Real Reason Google Loves Reviews: It’s All About the CTR

Of course the spin from Google is that reviews are helpful to users – and it’s true, they are. But that’s not all: Like all ad extensions, reviews in ads increase click-through rate. I estimate that these reviews will boost ad CTR’s by 6-8%.

Extensions like this reliably raise click-through rates for a number of reasons – they make the ads bigger and more attractive, they give people more links to click on, they provide more information than you can get in just two lines of text … you get the idea.

Why Google Is Focused on CTR Improvements

The high-level trend in the earnings reports is that CPC’s are down on average. So to make more money from search, they need to offset a lower average cost per click in two ways:

  • More ads in the SERP (more impressions)
  • Higher CTR on those additional impressions

The most leverage in this equation (given that CPC is impacted by other factors, such as competition) comes from CTR improvements.

This latest effort to increase AdWords CTR with reviews and ratings seems more likely to succeed than past efforts, since it (a) doesn’t require the advertiser to do any additional work and (b) doesn’t seem too overly concerned with user privacy, which makes it more likely for endorsements to actually appear in ads. (You have to go into your Google+ account, if you even have one, to opt out.)

Shared Endorsements Are Good for Conversion Rates Too

Shared endorsements will also impact conversion rates – since additional information is communicated to users prior to the click, they have a better understanding of the offering when they get to the site or landing page, so they’re that much more likely to convert. Like the images and price information in Product Listing Ads, ads with review information will be highly attractive to the search engine users with the most intent. This is a big deal for advertisers, especially if they can get trusted reviews to appear consistently on their ads.

AdWords Shared Endorsements: The Winners & Losers

The new shared endorsements in Google will be good for everyone – almost.

They’re good for users because they provide crowdsourced information to help them make purchasing decisions. (And not they’re just the opinions of random strangers, they’re people you know.) They’re good for advertisers because they increase both click-through and conversion rates. And they’re good for the Googs (duh) because high CTRs put more money in Google’s pockets.

If there’s a loser here, it’s (surprise, surprise) organic search. If your business appears in the organic listings but not in the paid results, you’ll be competing with rich ads that are higher up on the page. This is similar, again, to how Google has tricked out the PLA’s so that the organic listings can’t really compete.

My prediction? Shared endorsements will work, big time.

By Larry Kim


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