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Google Mobile Impression Share Declines as Expanded Text Ad Volume Spikes

Google Expanded Text Ads are here, and here to stay. But as we’ve previously noted, the reality of Google’s rollout of Expanded Text Ads (ETAs) hasn’t always lived up to the buzz of expectations. Recently, a few of our client teams uncovered a troubling correlation between the increase in ETA traffic and a decrease in impressions.

About a month ago, we noticed that brand traffic was declining for one of the programs we manage. We dug into our top brand terms to see if we could isolate the problem. CPCs had remained steady, but our impression share (IS) had fallen off.

Looking at the AdWords auction insights report, we didn’t see any new competitors – or any at all for that matter – bidding on our brand terms. Taking a look at IS data by device though, the issue was clearly stemming solely from mobile.

After looking at overall CPC trends, we were fairly certain this wasn’t a bidding issue, but we took a look at the mobile CPC trends as well. Mobile CPCs had fallen slightly, but the decline didn’t quite justify the sharp drop we were seeing in mobile impression share.

ETA traffic had been ramping up since early June, and we were wondering if this could be having an effect on our impression share. Was there something about ETAs serving on mobile that could lead to decreased impressions?

Indeed, we saw that as our share of mobile impressions coming from ETAs jumped up, mobile IS dropped off. The increase in ETAs serving was driving down our mobile IS. But why?

We dove deeper into the data to look at the trends on Google.com vs. Google Search Partners. Interestingly, we found that our mobile IS on Google.com for our top brand term had remained steady. It was our search partner traffic that saw mobile IS fall off. The drop off was perfectly timed to the rise in impression traffic coming from ETAs.

We quickly discovered that this issue was not isolated to one search program. Another program had tested going all in with ETAs after Google assured them that they wouldn’t see a drop in traffic by just running the expanded ad format. As soon as that program paused their legacy ads though, traffic took a steep drop.

That team dug into the data comparing Google.com traffic to search partner traffic and found that the decrease in traffic was also coming exclusively from search partners. After sharing the data with Google, they were told that some search partners may not have the real estate to support and serve ETAs. Our team responded by reactivating their legacy ads and traffic returned to normal.

While Google hasn’t made a big push to raise awareness of this issue, it does seem that not all search partners can fully support the new ETA format. Advertisers should be aware of how this may impact their overall traffic as ETAs continue to ramp up.

These trends were easy to spot for these specific programs due to their high volume of search partner traffic. If your client or company doesn’t see a large percentage of impressions coming from search partners, you won’t be impacted as drastically.

Additionally, we are not certain which search partners are causing this issue; so based on the makeup of your search partner traffic, you could see varying effects. If you start to see a decline in your traffic, dig in to see if the rise of ETAs is causing your search partner traffic to decrease. We hope that Google will make quick work of resolving this issue with its search partners and return total impression volume back to normal.