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Did Author Photos Hurt Google’s PPC? The Proof Is In

Recently, Google made a major change in the way it rewarded authorship. Previously, author portraits were displayed next to any search results tied to a Google+ account. Google took away these portraits with no warning, leaving only a small tagline with the author’s name. While authors may not be pleased, marketers should be.

As discussed last week, this doesn’t change the importance of authorship in the age of content. But the removal of author portraits is more than just cosmetic. From the day the portraits first disappeared, SEO experts suggested the move was meant to bolster Google’s AdWords program. After all, the portraits made organic (unpaid) search results more visible and thus more clickable, drawing eyes away from paid ads. By ditching the portraits, some contended, Google was increasing the click-through rate (CTR) of AdWords ads. Not everyone agreed. In fact, the question sparked a fiery debate across the SEO and marketing world. Like many Internet debates, most people argued from theory, taking their best guess at how the change would affect CTR. No one seemed to have any data. Larry Kim over at WordStream decided that wasn’t good enough. He dug through his own AdWords campaigns looking for any that could serve as a good controlled experiment, comparing data in the portrait and no-portrait worlds. His results are pretty clear. He found a campaign where no one else but him had an AdWords ad up, so fluctuations can’t be attributed to competitors. In the two weeks before the change, the ad had a 2.25 percent CTR; in the two weeks following, it jumped to 3.25 percent. As any advertiser knows, a percentage point is a huge gain in the world of CTR. The death of portraits had boosted his bottom line. So how does this affect businesses? For starters, if you’re relying on organic search traffic more than paid ads, you might notice a small slump in traffic. Presumably, some of the increased clicks the ads are getting previously would have gone to the authored articles in the search results. But the exact weight of the hit will depend on how many authored pages are in the results for a given keyword. In competitive niches, the hit will likely be spread over several websites, and may be relatively small. That doesn’t mean you need to run out and pump more money into AdWords campaigns. If you have authored content that appears on Page 1 of Google—something EverSpark specializes in—you’re still ahead of most of your competitors. But if your competitors are going all-out on AdWords, it will be important to do the same so they don’t siphon off your hard-won traffic.

Of course, not every business owner wants to juggle content, authorship, SEO and AdWords on their own. If you could use a little help with Internet marketing, drop EverSpark a line for your free consultation.