State of Local Search in 2018

The Gamut of Changes to Google My Business

In less than 2 years, Google has relentlessly rolled out a series of updates to Google My Business features. In 2017, they had added a featured post feature, Q&A section and introduced a messaging option. In December 2017, we wrote about a post on some of the new Google My Business features. In 2018, they have added a business description section which allows businesses to capture user attention with a 250 character message about the business. Clicking this description shows a longer description, up to 750 characters.

What does this reflect?

One thing is clear – Google is devoting a lot of resources towards Google Local. This particular segment has been identified by the search giant as one of its most important segments. To continue being the most popular search engine, it must deliver the most relevant results to users.

Finding service providers is a BIG part of user search behavior and includes all kinds of queries like restaurants near me, plumbers in Vancouver, dentists, plumbers and so on. In fact, the device you search from would know your location and if one searches for pizzas, one expects Google to show pizza places near me. So we, the users, are even going to stop saying things like ‘near me’ or ‘in Vancouver’ but expect geographically relevant search results for a variety of queries.

This indicates two things –
1. Businesses need to make Local SEO a bigger priority in their marketing plans
2. Google Local is expected to be an important revenue generator for Alphabet

How Significant are Organic Search results now?

Take a look at the Google search engine results first page real estate for the query – ‘Dental Implants’

As you can see, one organic search result popped up right below the top 4 paid ads and then the rest of the organic results are buried half way down the page. For some queries, these results are going to be higher up in more prime spots but for a variety of searches, they are getting pushed as far down as shared in the example above.

The map results are the result of Local SEO and those have become extremely important for businesses to generate phone calls and website leads. These map results can also include paid ads in certain cases. E.g. for ‘Dental Implants Near Me’ –


The Local Search Optimization includes actively managing the following –

  • Citations – business listings across various online business directories
  • Reputation – soliciting and responding to customer reviews across important directories
  • Map listings – updating business information on Google My Business (Bing and Apple listings are less important to maintain as regularly)


Save Google Analytics Historical Data From The GDPR Update

google analytics update

Recently, Google announced an important update that will affect your Google Analytics historical data. Google noted that they would be changing their data retention policy, in order to align with Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The update affects users historical data on their websites. Starting May 25, 2018, the new data retention settings are being applied automatically to your Google Analytics account. The new settings will make you lose all your historical data that is more than 26 months old.

Continue reading or watch the video included to find out how to fix the problem in 2 minutes if you don’t want to lose your historical data.

Why Is My Historical Analytics Data Important?

Google Analytics is a powerful FREE tool used to generate and analyze reports on website traffic. It’s an IMPORTANT tool for reporting, analysis, and benchmarking.

Your website is one of your most powerful digital assets. Historical data allows you to compare data collected from years ago and compare it to your website’s current performance. It offers incredible insight into your user experience, behavior and web traffic.

With the GDPR update, you will lose data that could have been used to generate great insights. Imagine not being able to see a 5-year trend line of users and sessions, or comparing last 24 months of website traffic with previous 24 months. Google has provided the option to retain your historical data before the update occurs on May 25th, 2018. Follow the steps below in order to save your historical data.

Here’s How To Save Your Google Analytics Historical Data

  1. First login to
  2. Go to the Admin panel from the left navigation menu
  3. Click on ‘Tracking info’ from under Properties
  4. Choose ‘Data Retention’
  5. From User and Event Data Retention, choose ‘Do Not Automatically Expire’
  6. Save

And “Voila!”

We’ve also created a helpful, step by step infographic to further illustrate how to save your Google Analytics historical data!

google analytics historical data

Contact Us

If you have questions about the Google Analytics historical data update or you would like to see more insight from your Google Analytics account, give ElementIQ a call at 604.909.3750. We are a full-service digital marketing agency and we are able to assist you with all of your marketing needs. You can also check out our Google-related blog posts for more information regarding the Google Search Engine and Google Analytics.


New Google My Business Features For Your Business

gmb profile

I wanted to share some recently introduced Google My Business features that a majority of local businesses are not yet using. They were discussed in details during the ‘office hours’ webinar hosted by Local Marketing Institute.

These new features can help you further promote your offers or content and encourage/enable new ways for users to interact with your business. So without further delay, let’s dig into these 3 new(er) features:

GMB Posts:

screenshot of google my business profile

Google Posts are similar to Facebook posts, except that you need to log in to your Google My Business dashboard and then create a post in there.

The advantage is that your post will show up on the knowledge graph when people search for your business on the Google search engine.

In this post, you can promote blog posts, events, offers etc…

As you can see, a thumbnail of the image, dates, short description and a link to your website or landing page can all be included.

Keep In Mind:

  • Posts will stay live for 7 days, after which they just get archived
  • It will be shown on mobile (Android and IOS), Google maps, desktop and tablets
  • Although there is no conclusive evidence, it appears that these posts can positively influence your business ranking on maps and organic search

Questions & Answers

google my business ask a question

google my business respond to client

This was a feature that was rolled out a couple of months ago. It allows users to ask a question which can be answered by anyone in the community and by the business owner.

To manage conversations, the owner needs to be logged into the associated Google account on an Android mobile phone or tablet. IOS devices do not have the ability to manage these conversations yet.

If you are signed in to that Google account on your Android phone/tablet, you will receive a push notification when someone asks a question or someone in the community responds to the question.

Just the way reviews show up, the name of the person who asks or answers the question will show up. If the user is a ‘Local Guide’, then that badge will show next to the person’s name. If the business owner responds to a question, it will show up as a response from the business.

Keep In Mind:

  • Only Google maps on Android/tablet can be used to manage Q&A’s
  • You have to be signed in to the respective Google account
  • You get push notifications on mobile when people ask or answer questions
  • Anyone can answer questions – answers will show up as answered by individuals name, individuals name (local guide), or the business owner

GMB Messaging

google my business messaging

Business owners can login to the Google My Business dashboard and turn on messaging.

They can choose the phone number which will receive the messages if consumers choose to engage with the business in this way.

The option to message a business is, currently, only going to be visible to users who find the business listing via mobile web search. They will not see the option to message the business if they find the business on their desktops/laptops.

Interactions will be exactly the same as regular text messaging as the message from the user will reach the SMS app on the listed business phone number.

Keep In Mind:

  • Use Allo (app by Google) if you want to separate personal texts from business texts. It will allow business texts to be directed to the Allo app.
  • Enable if you can commit to reply within, at least, a day. Although, Facebook and Google want businesses to reply almost immediately – which is not always practical.

Note: If you are a dental clinic or a law firm, the Google My Business guidelines are slightly different than what they are for regular businesses. The features discussed above will still be applicable. But we had recently published a post to highlight some of these differences. Click here to read it.

Google My Business For Doctors And Lawyers

Google my business for doctors and lawyers

How is Google My Business unique for Doctors and Lawyers? According to Google policy, doctors and lawyers are allowed to have their individual practitioner listings with the same address and phone number as the business page of the clinic or law firm that they work with.

This is because doctors and lawyers are often associated with multiple clinics or firms and Google wants to allow users the option to review the practitioners instead of the clinic or firm. Such practitioner listings are not considered duplicate listings by Google. 

Google Policy on this is:

Multiple Practitioners At One Location

If the practitioner is one of the several public-facing practitioners at this location:

  • The organization should create a listing for this location, separate from that of the practitioner.
  • The title of the listing for the practitioner should include only the name of the practitioner, and shouldn’t include the name of the organization

Solo Practitioners That Belong To Branded Organizations

If a practitioner is the only public-facing practitioner at a location and represents a branded organization, it’s best for the practitioner to share a listing with the organization. Create a single listing, named using the following format: [brand/company]: [practitioner name].

Acceptable: “Allstate: Joe Miller” (if Joe is the sole public-facing practitioner at this Allstate-branded location)

This post addresses practitioner listings when multiple practitioners work at one location and we cover what happens when:

  1. A practitioner works at multiple locations
  2. The practitioner stops working at a location
  3. A practitioner moves to a different city/country

We will also conclude with some of our personal thoughts on why this is not a perfect system and how it can be improved.

When A Practitioner Works At Multiple Locations

If a practitioner works at multiple clinics/law firms, then the practitioner should have a separate Google Business listing for each of the locations. The hours of operation will need to be different for each listing. E.g:

  1. John Miller, MMD; 111 A Street, City, State, Zipcode; 666-666-6666; Mon-Fri 9 am to 11 am; X Clinics Website
  2. John Miller, MMD; 222 B Street, City, State, Zipcode; 777-777-7777; Mon-Fri 1 pm to 3 pm; Y Clinics Website
  3. John Miller; MMD; 333 C Street, City, State, Zipcode; 888-888-8888; Mon-Fri 4 pm to 6 pm; Z Clinics Website

This allows users to search for the practitioner’s name and find his/her information in the knowledge graph. It enables a user to leave a review for the practitioner instead of the clinic/law firm.

Note: The name of the practitioner should not include the clinic/law firm’s name. E.g. do not put the name as X Clinic: John Miller, MMD or John Miller, MMD: X Clinic.

Also Note: Practitioner listings should be owned and controlled by the practitioner and not the organization that he/she is working at. It is best for a practitioner to claim all his/her listings with the same email address. This way, when he/she logs in to, all the listings will be visible on one dashboard as shown below –

google my business screenshot

When A Practitioner Stops Working At A Location

If a practitioner stops working at a particular clinic/law firm, then he/she should mark the listing with that location’s address as ‘Permanently Closed’. To do so, he/she would log in to and select ‘Manage Location’ for the location that he/she quit.

Google my business map screenshot


Then, select ‘Info’ from the left column and choose ‘Close or remove this listing’. This is where they can choose to ‘Mark as Permanently Closed’.

Note: The other option within ‘Close or remove this listing’ is to ‘Remove Listing’. This option simply undoes the verification of the page. It takes away your ability to manage that page, respond to reviews and also lets anyone (yes, anyone) claim that page to be their own (requiring verification).

When A Practitioner Moves To A Different City/Country

When A Practitioner Moves To A Different City Within The Same Country

If a practitioner moves his/her residence, he/she may start working at a new location/locations and quit the clinics/law firms he/she was working at previously.

In this case, the practitioner can create newly verified listings for the locations he/she is working at now and get them verified. Then he/she can request Google to mark the old listings as ‘Moved to a New Location’ and punch in the details of the new location. By doing so, the review strength of the practitioner will be passed over to the new listing.

When A Practitioner Moves To A New Country

If the practitioner moves to a new country, then the old listing cannot be ‘moved to the new location’. In this case, the old listing will need to be marked as ‘permanently closed’. Remember, this does not remove the listing from the Google database. However, it does eventually delete the listing when there is no engagement with the listing. But this can take 1-2 years and there is nothing that can be done to speed up the process.

Why Can This Get Complex?

From a local search optimization point of view, NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) consistency is the elusive goal that we are constantly chasing. When one address gets associated with multiple listings, it can be a recipe for disaster.

There is a high probability that many business directories pull information about local businesses from Google. So we may be dealing with one instance of a John Miller, MMD Google Business profile right now but in the future, there could be several other listings with John Miller’s name that can pop up on the Internet that show the address of the clinics/law firms that John worked at.

Another issue is when a practitioner moves to a different country. Since Google cannot move the listing to a new country, the old listing will need to be marked as ‘permanently closed’. We don’t like this because it means there will be a permanently closed listing floating around on the Internet with the clinics’ address for a year or more.

Alternative (Proposed) Solution:

Practitioners should not be expected to create their own listings. Instead, only the clinics/law firms should have their listings. But these clinics/law firm listings should be able to mention the names and basic details of the practitioners that work there.

When a patient/client wants to leave a review, Google can ask if the review is for the organization or for the practitioner. If the user chooses practitioner, he/she should be able to choose from the list of practitioners that work at that location and leave a review for the particular individual.

Such a practice will reduce the number of listings that are to be created and managed and thus make the Internet slightly less congested. It will also leave the administrative responsibilities in the hands of the firms rather than having the doctors/lawyers worry about such things.

This alternative solution is a personal opinion shared by the local search experts at ElementIQ who are not looking to be hired by Google to lead such an initiative (unless they are extended an offer they can’t refuse!) 

Beginner’s Guide: Getting Started With Google My Business

google my business

Google’s business listings first emerged in 2004 under the name “Google Local”. Over the years it has evolved from Google Local, to Google Maps, to Google Places, to Google+ Local and now Google My Business (with perhaps a few more lesser-known names in between).

Because Google My Business is so heavily integrated into Google Search, Google Maps, and even Google Adwords, it is now one of the most powerful and valuable Google services for a business owner.

Getting Started With Google My Business

Like any other Google property, you will need a Google account. First, head over to and click on the big “START NOW” button in the right corner.

Creating Your Google My Business Listing

If Google does not recognize your business, you will need to create one. This is simple enough, just fill in the business information in the form:Google My Business Map

The most important things are the Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) of your business.

Be sure these are correct and consistent with other instances online, particularly your website. Here are some helpful notes when adding your NAP:

Entering Your Business Name

For your Business Name, make sure you use the business name you would like to appear on the web. This does not necessarily need to be your official, registered name.

Formatting Your Address

Putting in the correct address format can be tricky since there are so manygoogle my business screenshot different ways to input it. What complicates things further is different directories online seem to have different formats.

Start by entering the street address in the first line, and then adding a line for the suite or unit number. Google is sometimes finicky with how it displays unit numbers, so you may have to adjust it after.

Optimizing Your Phone Number

Keep the phone number simple with the ###-###-#### format. If you are expecting many out of country calls it may make sense to put the +1 at the front.

Claiming Your Listing

Once your listing has been created the next step will be to claim it. The standard claimingGoogle My Business Search tab method is to verify address ownership by requesting a postcard by mail. Postcards usually arrive in about 5 business days.

They contain a PIN number which will need to be entered into your profile dashboard.

Once you claim your listing it will be verified on Google and you will have full access to managing the business listing information.

Now if your business already exists on Google Maps (you didn’t need to create it) the claiming process is usually much easier.

First, search for your business on Google. If you find your listing and it has an “Own this business?” link, you’re in luck.

Click the link and it will allow you to receive the verification code by phone or text, in addition to the postcard. This will allow you to skip the wait time and claim your listing immediately.

Get Google’s Help

Navigating Google My Business is by no means a walk in the park. I have had my fair share of frustrations over the years.

The biggest issues you will run into are usually related to claiming and verifying the listing, especially if it has already been claimed or verified by someone else.Google My Business

Here are some helpful tips I have found that can ease the process:

  • Google My Business support is surprisingly effective. Just click the “Help” link in the footer of the dashboard and select your issue. Most issues will require you to submit a ticket or request to Google, but I have found their email support to be quite responsive.
  • They still have a callback option though it’s buried deep in the Help options. Click Need More Help > Ownership or access to my business > Someone else owns or verified my service area business and request a callback. Someone from Google will call you and usually is willing to help with any issue, not just for service area businesses.
  • I’ve heard that contacting the Google My Business team through social media (Facebook chat or Twitter DM) is more effective because it will go directly to their Google My Business team in Mountain View, CA. I have had mixed results with this, from an immediate response for some cases to a 3-4 day delay for others.

Google My Business Should Be A Priority

If you are a small or medium sized business, you absolutely should invest the time and effort into your Google My Business page. Do not overlook this online profile as it is your best bet to get your business found online, and it’s free!

Google is constantly improving these business listings like allowing owners to now include posts. This allows for more engagement with customers.

Google My Business is a powerful tool that is only becoming more and more popular. It is an industry standard that legitimizes your company online and attracts customers. Stand out and get ahead, create your business profile today!

How To Publish A Google Post

how to publish a google post

Alright, folks. It’s here. Google is now allowing businesses to create short snippets of content in Google Knowledge Graph.

In this post, I’m going to tell you how to publish a post on Google – with some recommendations!

What Are Google Posts?

First, here’s some context behind what Google Posts are and what they can do for your business.

Posts appear on your Google My Business listing. They can be viewed in Google’s Knowledge Graph result for a search for your brand.

Searchers can tap/click to read the full post. They can also share that post with friends via social networks directly from Google.

Why Do Google Posts Exist?

If you’re still wondering why you should even care about Google Posts, let’s dig briefly into why these are even a thing.

The purpose of these posts are to allow businesses to publish timely information, like specials or events. If you have a time-limited sale or weekly special, this would be a good place to publish it.

Google also wants to give searchers a “one-click path” to connecting with a business.

They originally only limited it to celebrities, museums, sports teams and movie studios to use. Now, every business can publish a post.

Step-By-Step – How To Publish A Google Post

Step 1: Go to Log-in. Then, scroll all the way down until you see your page(s) come up.

how to create a google post screenshot - scroll down

Step 2: Select your Google My Business page.

select your google my business page

Step 3: Click on “Posts” on the left-hand side.

click on posts to create a google post

Step 4: Click on “Write your post”.

click on write your post - to create a google post

Step 5: Write your Google post. Add an image too.

Make your copy captivating. Think about your ideal customer. What would make them want to take action? What visual might they want to see here?

write your google post - add an image

Step 6: If you would like to make the post an event or add a button, scroll down and select that option.

If you’re highlighting a particular offer, your call-to-action button should match the offer.

create your post - add an event or button

Step 7: Preview your Google post and hit “Publish” when ready!

dr nasiry and patient in google post offer - preview post

Step 8: Verify that it published.

verify that the google post is published

Your Turn – Publish A Google Post!

Go ahead and publish a Google Post to your business listing! Let us know by posting a link to your Google Post in the comments below.

5 Things To Know: Google’s Crackdown On Mobile Pop-Ups

mobile pop-ups Google

Websites with mobile pop-up ads will not be ranking as highly when the changes go into effect, starting January 10, 2017, Google announced this week.

The world’s largest search engine announced a change to its algorithm this week that affects mobile user experience – and how sites are treated and ranked. Google will be cracking down on what it call “interstitials” or mobile pop-up ads, as we know them.

What Google Says

According to Google’s official announcement, these pop-up ads provide a poor mobile user experience:

“Pages that show intrusive interstitials provide a poorer experience to users than other pages where content is immediately accessible,” Google’s official announcement states. “This can be problematic on mobile devices where screens are often smaller.

How Does Google Determine What Is A ‘Poor’ Experience?

Google clearly defined how sites can violate this new amendment to the algorithm:mobile pop-ups Google

  • “Showing a popup that covers the main content, either immediately after the user navigates to a page from the search results, or while they are looking through the page.
  • Displaying a standalone interstitial that the user has to dismiss before accessing the main content.
  • Using a layout where the above-the-fold portion of the page appears similar to a standalone interstitial, but the original content has been inlined underneath the fold.”

Who Is Affected By Google’s New Attitude To Mobile Pop-Ups?

This change in Google’s algorithm will primarily affect companies that make money off pop-up advertisement revenue.

These companies face a critical dilemma: Rank or profit. Taking a ranking hit on mobile can eviscerate numerous companies out there. A rising 51% of all digital traffic is viewed on a mobile device, according to the 2015 Internet Trends report. That same report indicated that 42% of all digital content is consumed on desktop. Trends suggest that number will continue to decrease.

5 Lessons We Learn From This Change In Google’s Algorithm

  • Don’t rely on ad revenue from mobile pop-ups
  • Prioritize user experience. Google’s latest updates emphasize UX and it’s been clear that they always put searchers first.
  • Stick to a SEO plan and grow your business with organically-sourced leads.
  • Gate your content behind a landing page instead and bring them to it via Google AdWords.
  • Most of all, provide something special and valuable to users. They’ll never engage unless it provides some sort of value to them.

What are your thoughts about Google’s announcement? Leave a comment below.

Today Is Google Mobile Friendly Day #April21 #Mobilegeddon

Is Your Website Mobile Friendly? If Not, Your Rankings Will Probably Suffer

Even for those in the digital marketing industry, it’s not easy to keep up with Google’s frequent algorithm updates.

As an agency, we’re constantly asked: why so many updates? What do these updates mean? Will these updates affect me?

As of April 21, 2015 (today), the Google Mobile-Friendly update is upon us. This will affect you, and affect your competitors.

In a constant push towards better user experience, Google has been placing importance on factors that help searchers better find what they’re looking for. It’s about creating a better User Experience.

What Is This Update?

An increasing number of traffic comes from mobile devices. Google will rank search results conducted by mobile devices (smartphones) based on the mobile-friendliness of a website. This update does not affect search results conducted in desktop or tablet environments.

How Does This Update Affect You?

If your website isn’t mobile-friendly, there is a high probability that your rankings will suffer on mobile device searches. To see if your website is indexed by Google as mobile friendly, it’ll be denoted in search results.


What Do You NEED to Know?

I’ve shared the simple facts of what you need to know, but if you’d like to read up more on it, check out Barry Schwartz’s summary on Search Engine Land.

What Can You Do TODAY?

1) Know WHAT your mobile traffic is.

2) TEST to see if pages on your website are mobile friendly. You can use the Google Mobile Friendly tool for this.

3) We Can Help! We can provide further insight into how your website is seen in Google’s eyes. We’ll look at the usability and mobile friendliness of it, and provide insight in doing so.

Your website is a vital marketing and sales tool for your business. Request a FREE Inbound Marketing Assessment below!

Inbound Marketing Assessment

Why I Hate AdWords’ ‘Ad Relevance’ & ‘Other Ad Triggering’: Simple Solutions To Combat Flawed Ad Serving

I have a confession to make… I’m not fond of Google AdWords’ Quality Score calculation, on a good day. From what I gather from digital marketers the world over, I’m not alone in my belief.

The idea itself is a great one—a way to filter and rank advertisers for similar goods and services in Google’s AdWords auction—so that the advertiser with the highest bid doesn’t automatically win each auction. It’s intended to effectively eliminate a monopoly on ad space that would be waged between deep-pocketed corporations (although some would say, with good authority, it too often is a battle of the titans).

So, I have no problem with it existing. I do, however, have a problem with the way it seems to be—almost randomly—calculated by Big G. Specifically, for this blog post, the ‘Ad Relevance’ metric.

Generally the LocalTrifecta blog is filled with useful, actionable material to help you or your client’s businesses improve online and get a leg up on the competition. It’s all about improving your ROI in digital marketing efforts.

That being said, there isn’t any rule saying we can’t air the occasional ‘complaint’ blog post. So please, if you’ll bear with me, hear me out and perhaps we can gripe together (and come up with some solutions?) on this rather frustrating issue.

All About Ad Relevance

At its very core, Ad Relevance is supposed to measure how relevant your ad text is to the keyword in question, with 3 possible grades (like all Quality Score metrics): Above Average, Average, and Below Average.

As per Google:

“This status describes how well your keyword matches the message in your ads. For example, if someone searches for your keyword and your ad shows up, would your ad seem directly relevant to their search?”

Fair enough, right? One would think, then, that any mention(s) of your keyword in your ad text should sufficiently earn you at least an ‘Average’ grade, right?

After all, if your customer is looking to hire an immigration lawyer and they type “immigration lawyers” in to Google, wouldn’t the following ad be quite relevant to their query:


So, in this case, why would the keyword “immigration lawyers” have a ‘Below Average’ grade for its Ad Relevance metric? Is the ad irrelevant, or not very relevant, to the keyword in question, “immigration lawyers”? I mean, the keyword is actually in the ad’s headline, written exactly the same way, and the term “immigration” is used again in Description Line 1. What gives? Isn’t this worth at least an ‘Average’ grade?

According to AdWords, ‘Below Average’ grades for your keyword’s Ad Relevance are caused by:

“…your ad or keyword [not being] specific enough or that your ad group may cover too many topics.”

And can be remedied by:

“…creating tightly-themed ad groups by making sure that your ads are closely related to a smaller group of keywords.”

Now, in the example I’ve used above, that Immigration Lawyer ad group contains 14 keywords (every one of which has “immigration” in it and some variation after or before it, ie. “attorney, law firm, find” etc.)

So, isn’t it safe to assume the ad group is tightly-themed, and the keywords are closely related to the 1 text ad I shared here? I’m not including ‘criminal lawyer,’ ‘immigration laws’ or other unrelated terms in here, so what’s the issue?

Wouldn’t the ad seem “directly relevant to [the customer’s] search” as per Google’s definition of Ad Relevance? I think it would to the vast majority of rational human beings on this planet, anyways.

What complicates matters with this supposed ‘Ad Relevance,’ is ‘Average’ or better ratings given to keywords that DO NOT appear in the text ad at all!

Another client has a keyword “roof cleaning cost” in their Roof Cleaning ad group, while the ad that’s served 99% of the time with the keyword looks like this:


 The problem with this is, the keyword’s Ad Relevance has an ‘Average’ rating. Really?! There is nothing in that ad copy that mentions the cost of roof cleaning, or anything along the lines of getting an estimate or quantifying the cost of such services.

With these 2 examples in mind, it seems like the first advertiser is getting robbed in the Quality Score department, doesn’t it? With a ‘Below Average’ grade in any Quality Score metric, there’s no chance of your ad getting a 10/10 rating, and very unlikely it even achieves an 8. So, despite the apparent relevancy to the rational human eye, this keyword will suffer with a lower Quality Score. It will, therefore, rank lower in the ad auction, and accrue a higher average cost per click than those with higher Quality Scores for the same or similar keywords.

I could go on with other examples like this, but this blog post must get to a discussion.

Clearly, ‘Ad Relevance’ isn’t always calculated on the description that Google puts forth about it, or else these aforementioned keywords would have different grades.

Maybe we can use Google’s Ad Preview & Diagnosis tool (which you can find at the bottom of the pop-out that appears after you hover over the little speech bubble beside each keyword in your ad group) to get some answers? This tool is supposed to show you which ad is currently running for a given keyword, in a geographical area and device of your choice.

Try this in your account. It will infuriate you. I performed this task multiple times across different ad groups in a client account, and while it would show me Ad ‘A’ in the preview, when we performed an actual search using the exact same keyword in the exact same geographical area, we would be served Ad ‘B.’ Or Ad ‘C.’ There was no rhyme or reason for this.

And just to add salt in the wound, Google says when you use this tool:

“You’ll see the exact same results as a Google search…”

Utter hogwash. Try it for yourself and see if Google is telling the truth or not…

Google’s ‘Defective’ Ad Serving


As an aside, when we performed manual searchers ourselves in our browser, sometimes we were served ads that weren’t even IN the ad group in question! We’d be served ads from a completely unrelated ad group, connected to their own keywords. This is related to another object of my ire (and arguably an even worse offender): the dreaded “this keyword is triggering other ads with a similar keyword…” message in the keyword’s speech bubble in AdWords.



 This is maddening. We create ads in a specific ad group for a reason, no? But in the case above, the keyword “walk in tubs” is triggering an ad from the ‘Safety Tubs’ ad group, which is associated with the keyword ‘safety tubs,’ a completely different term. Yes, ‘tubs’ is in each of them, but each keyword resides in its own, unique ad group that contains only similar keywords (ie. the word ‘safety’ does not appear in the Walk In Tubs ad group, and ‘walk in’ doesn’t appear in the Safety Tubs group).

Again, we create ads in a specific ad group for a reason, no? Apparently not… Google gets to decide this for you, judging by the following from their help page on this problem:

“This keyword is already associated with at least one other ad in your account.
You can only have one ad showing per keyword. If you have two or more ads eligible for the same keyword, the ad with the highest Quality Score will show.”

Thank you Google, for deciding which other ads (not in the same ad group) to match the keyword in question to. And, didn’t they just contradict themselves in the paragraph above? It says that the keyword is ‘associated’ with multiple ads, but then in the very next sentence, says that only 1 ad can show per keyword. Huh?

So why then, Google, did you decide to ‘associate’ another ad with the same keyword, despite saying only 1 ad can show for it? That’s why you made US make an ad(s) in the ad group for the specific keyword in question. Match it to any of those ads, not an ad that is supposed to be triggered by an entirely different keyword residing in another ad group!

What’s more, ads don’t actually have Quality Scores assigned to them: keywords do. So this just adds to the confusion. Worse still, I’ve seen an example of this in a client’s account—where the ad that ended up showing for the keyword in question, was attached to a keyword in a separate ad group—however, it had a LOWER Quality Score! It’s enough to make your head spin!

Take the above example, the keyword “walk in tubs.” When I went to look at the offending keyword that was ‘stealing’ the ad impression (safety tubs), that keyword was triggering other ads with a similar keyword TOO!



 This time, it was “walk in bathtubs for seniors” that was stealing the ad impression; showing an ad related to the seniors term, instead of an ad related to the safety tubs term, which is what Google should have shown, for relevance.


 Can you see the madness of this ‘cross-pollination’ of keywords and ads? Mind-numbing, if you ask me.

And no, I’m not done with the silliness… turns out, the keyword “walk in bathtubs for seniors” had a much lower Quality Score than the keyword “safety tubs,” so that flies right in the face of what Google told us in its multi-ad explanation. And I quote again:

“You can only have one ad showing per keyword. If you have two or more ads eligible for the same keyword, the ad with the highest Quality Score will show.”

So why would the keyword with the lower Quality Score trigger an ad in its ad group, despite it having a lower Quality Score and a less relevant ad, as well? Doesn’t AdWords pride itself on serving the most relevant ads at the right times? With all its incredible calculations and algorithms running in the background, how doesn’t it know to serve the most relevant ad to the searcher’s query, AND to follow its own rules, as per the quoted text above?

And finally, for the cherry on top of a very sour dessert, this ‘cross-pollination’ can change every single day. I checked the next day to see if this ‘other ad triggering’ was still occurring for the original keyword in question (“walk in tubs”), and indeed it was; but this time, completely different keywords were causing the wrong ad serving! At this point you just have to shake your head and realize you’re ‘playing the game.’

Sometimes there’s no justice in the AdWords world.

Are We Being Duped… By The Same System, We Have To Trust?

Is it also possible that the keyword with the lower Quality Score is being used in the ad auction itself (instead of the original keyword that should have done this)? If so, this could be real detrimental to our ‘correct’ keyword’s Ad Rank (which is calculated as Quality Score x Keyword Bid), since the lower the Quality Score, the lower the Ad Rank, and therefore, the lower the position of the ad on the search results page, and the HIGHER the cost we’d need to pay (keywords with higher Quality Scores ultimately receive ‘discounts’ in the auction, meaning the advertiser pays less and less with each numerical improvement). There’s an incredibly comprehensive look at the economics of Quality Score here.

As far as we know, the original, ‘correct’ keyword is the one receiving the impressions and other statistics for the ads being shown (even though the ad was from a different ad group which is supposed to be triggered from a completely different keyword). However, it does make you wonder, since the ad that showed is supposed to only be triggered by the keywords in its own ad group.


AdWord’s #1 Flaw That Humans (Not Algorithms) Can Solve

These 2 problems, the ‘Ad Relevance’ conundrum, and the ‘cross-pollination’ of keywords to ad groups (which no one can easily explain away), point to what I feel is a glaring weakness in the AdWords system:

Human Beings Are Not Allowed To Choose Which Ads Run With Which Keywords!

Again, I salute Google for creating an advertising vehicle that I couldn’t even begin to fathom how to create, and for the most part it is incredibly intelligent and useful. However, such a fundamental element of advertising is relevancy, and I don’t care what they say, if you have a marketing team or copywriter with at least half a brain, they’d be able to point out which ad copy would be the most relevant to the keywords triggered by a user’s search queries.

Google, why not let us decide which ads to run with which keywords? Most of us know our target audiences, and this way, we’ll avoid being at your mercy, and avoid potentially showing ads for “walk in bathtubs for seniors,” when “safety tubs” is what the search was originally for. Yes, maybe the ads are similar, but we made the ads in the “Safety Tubs” ad group for a reason, and the ads in “Seniors” for another.

In this way, we could still rely on AdWord’s ‘Ad Rotation’ settings to ensure the best ad in the ad group is still shown; simply choosing ‘optimize for clicks’ or ‘optimize for conversions’ will still allow Google to choose the appropriate ad—it will just choose between those in the given ad group… not from unrelated ad groups that potentially contain keywords with lower Quality Scores!

Is this asking too much? I’m sure Google likes the status quo, so it has control, and because they pride themselves on serving the most relevant ad, as per their electronic algorithm’s brain. Plus, it is possible that they’ll serve ads that may historically cost more than others (for all you conspiracy theorists out there). Again, we can’t see the inner workings, so we’re more or less at the algorithm’s mercy.

Common Sense Solutions To ‘Lower Your Risk’

What can we do to combat these 2 problems, Ad Relevancy and ‘cross-pollination’ of ads and keywords?

For Ad Relevance, love it or hate it, all we can do is:

–  Create tightly-themed ad groups like Google suggests. Keep it to 15 keywords or under if possible

–  Use a combination of broad, “phrase,” and [exact match] keywords, particularly [exact match] if possible, since these are the most specific and Google finds these super relevant to the searcher’s query, when it’s (obviously) what the searcher typed in

–  Diligently use negative keywords in your campaigns (and specifically at the ad group level)

–  Create ad copy that contains the keyword

–  Use {dynamic keyword insertion}. However, don’t overuse it!

To avoid ‘cross-pollinating’ ads and keywords:

–  Use [exact match] negative keywords at the ad group level. For my example above, we would use the keyword [walk in tubs] as an exact match, negative keyword at the ad group level of the “Safety Tubs” ad group.  Just like we would use the [safety tubs] exact match keyword as a negative in the “Seniors” ad group. So, wherever possible, use the ‘offending’ keyword stealing the ad impression as an [exact match negative keyword] in the ad group level of the correct ad group. Don’t forget to do the same for plurals and common misspellings as well! This can be very tricky with match type.

–  Create unique, tightly-themed ad groups, but don’t go so granular that AdWords sees little difference between them; ie. though it’s no guarantee, don’t create an ad group for ‘purple shoes’ and ‘flowery purple shoes’ just because of a 1 word difference, even if you do use [exact match negatives] and single word broad negatives at the ad group level.

–  Ensure your landing page is as closely related to the ad group’s keywords as possible. This doesn’t mean keyword-stuff your page, but be cognizant about what the overall theme is for the ad group, and ensure your landing page serves up relevant content around potential search queries that match to these keywords. Don’t forget, ‘Landing Page Experience’ is an important element of Quality Score as well!

Wrapping It All Up

Do you suffer from these same kinds of AdWords challenges? Is the algorithm going ‘rogue’ on your keywords and choosing what it thinks is the best ad for the searcher? If so, I hope you’re able to see some improvement in your accounts by following these guidelines.

AdWords will test your patience, but as a whole, it does do a good job of managing your campaigns. As long as you can recognize any problems and then know how to act accordingly, you’ll continue to see respectable results.

Do you have any suggestions to combat this unfortunately ‘inhuman’ aspect of the AdWords engine? Any personal success stories or valuable advice you can share with our readers? If so, please do tell us about them in the comments below!

I’ll see you there!

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