Recently, Google announced some changes to the ad rotation settings available in AdWords; specifically to the option that allows an advertiser to rotate ads more evenly. Of the current three rotation options (optimize for clicks, optimize for conversions, and rotate more evenly), “rotate more evenly” was the preferred setting for creative testing because it allows measurement of performance on a more level playing field and then optimize ads to the performance metrics most important to your campaign. Google’s upcoming modification will not only limit one of search marketers’ most fundamental testing tools, but it will also force search marketers to stay on top of their testing schedules if they aren’t already.
What is the new setting?
Within the next few weeks, the Rotate option will change to what can be more accurately described as “rotate ads for 30 days after an ad is enabled or edited.” Ad rotation will still be set at the campaign level, but the 30-day even rotation serving period will be tracked separately at each ad group. After 30 days pass without an existing ad being edited or a new ad being created, ads will default to being optimized for clicks and the ads with the better click-through rates (CTR) will be served. The only way to reset an ad group’s equal rotation window for an additional 30 days involves changes to the ads within the ad group; either by creating a brand new ad, editing an existing ad, or by un-pausing an existing ad.
Below is a screen shot of the current Ad Rotation settings, with a disclaimer from Google that the “Optimized ad rotation is recommended for most advertisers.” The default setting is Optimize for clicks.
What impact does this change have on advertisers?
This impending change makes it imperative for advertisers to stay organized while running creative tests. Be prepared with a good stock of replacement ads so that you can review test results and make the appropriate optimizations to reset the rotation window before the initial 30 days expire. Test results may become skewed if ad groups are not optimized within 30 days and the ‘optimize for clicks’ default setting starts to kick in. It is important to note that the campaign’s ad rotation setting will continue to display ‘Rotate’ after the 30 days have ended for any of the ad groups in the campaign, so maintaining and following organized testing schedules is highly recommended. The major downside of this change is that it will become more difficult to obtain reliable ad testing results in campaigns and ad groups that receive lower volume. Ad testing is generally not measured just in terms of days, but more commonly by click metrics, and campaigns that do not get enough traffic and clicks within 30 days will start to optimize for clicks before statistically significant data can be obtained.
Advertisers managing accounts with conversion tracking will also have to make sure they update their ad rotation settings to Optimize for conversions when they complete ad testing if they wish to optimize towards conversions. Otherwise, they risk experiencing dips in performance when the ad rotation settings of high-converting ads with low CTR’s default back to Optimize for clicks after the 30-day rotation period. In general, any ad that converted well but had a low CTR risks facing a serious drop-off at the end of the 30 days when the default setting will begin to optimize for clicks.
As Google is essentially eliminating the ability to indefinitely rotate ads, Microsoft adCenter is moving in the opposite direction and is slated to release an ad rotation option later this year. It will be interesting to see how the forthcoming adCenter release will further impact advertisers’ testing processes, as it will hopefully replace some of the flexibility in creative testing that was just lost due to the change in the ad rotation settings in Google AdWords.