A Guide to Using Social Extensions in Google AdWords | What They Are, How To Set Them Up, and How To Analyze Performance

Social Extensions in Google AdWords

Google+ is in full force now, it continues to grow, and its impact can be felt in both organic and paid search. This is readily apparent as +1 buttons have spread across the web, similar to what happened with Facebook Like buttons. One of the ways that Google is enabling businesses to benefit from +1’s is via Social Extensions in AdWords. If you’re not familiar with Social Extensions, don’t worry. This post will cover an introduction to Google’s latest ad extension, explain why you should care about it, and I’ll also explain how to add them to your AdWords campaigns. And by the way, yes, you should care about Social Extensions. Read on.

Ad Extensions in Google AdWords
In Paid Search, any time you can attach additional information to your SEM ads, the better. Attaching relevant and valuable information to your ads can be the difference between a click or simply registering an impression. And that can impact Quality Score, CPC’s, and ROI.

Google has done an incredible job rolling out various ad extensions that provide valuable information for people searching for products or services. For example, paid search marketers can implement ad sitelinks, product extensions, call extensions, location extensions, and social extensions. I won’t cover each of these extensions in detail in this post, but it’s important to understand that they “attach” information to existing ads. That additional information might be phone numbers, addresses, reviews, sitelinks, +1 annotations, etc.

Google Introduces Social Extensions
After Google+ rolled out, Google launched a new ad extension called Social Extensions. Social Extensions enable you to connect your Google+ Page to your AdWords campaigns. This enables you to share +1’s from your G+ page with your ads, and vice versa. Sharing +1’s gives marketers a greater chance of having +1 annotations show up in their ads (and it obviously impacts the count that shows up, as well).

+1 Annotations stand out, as they display the number of +1’s, including social connections that have casted a vote for the business on Google+. Here’s a screenshot of Social Extensions in action (for Dell). Note, Social Extensions can show up in both Search and on the Display Network.

An example of Social Extensions in Action in Google Search:
Social Extensions in Action - Dell

How Social Extensions Can Help You
As we have all seen with Facebook Ads, social annotations bring relevance to advertisements. If your social connections show up within the ad itself (essentially giving their approval of a business), then it can make a bigger impact. That’s as long as you take that person’s recommendation seriously. Since annotations can show up in both Search Ads and Display Network Ads, this can have a far reaching impact for businesses. The Display Network consists of any website running Google Ads, including Google properties like Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps, etc. It reaches approximately 80% of web users.

The fact of the matter is that social annotations work. They take up more screen real estate, they include visuals of your connections, and the number of +1’s the business has received. This can all be very powerful for advertisers, as it can increase the chances of a click-through. Google has stated that +1 annotations have yielded higher click-through during their testing.

Here’s an interesting quote from Vic Gundotra from Google about +1 annotations (from a New York Times Article about Google+):
“We are seeing 5 to 10 percent click-through-rate uplift on any ad that has a social annotation on our own Web sites,” Mr. Gundotra said. ”We have been in this business for a long time, and there are very few things that give you a 5 to 10 percent increase on ad engagement.”

How To Analyze Social Extensions in AdWords
Let’s say you implemented Social Extensions and were wondering how they were impacting the performance of your ads. You’ll be happy to know that Google addressed this situation by providing a +1 segment in AdWords. You can access this segment by logging into AdWords, accessing a specific campaign or ad group, and then clicking the “Segment” button, and then selecting the “+1 Annotations” segment.

+1 Annotations Segment in Google AdWords

You will then be presented with data showing how the +1 annotation impacts your performance. There are two types of +1 annotations that you can analyze. The first is labeled “personal” and will show you how many people saw the annotation when users from their circles were included. For example, if I was in a user’s circles, it could say, “Glenn and 22 other people +1’d this.” The second type of +1 annotation is “basic”, and it will simply show you how many people saw the annotation without personal recommendations. For example, a basic annotation would say, “250 people +1’d this.”

Using the +1 Annotations segment, you can compare the performance of ads that didn’t show an annotation to ads that did. In addition, you can compare both personal and basic annotations to see how they perform. And if you have conversion tracking set up, you can see the impact on conversion.

How To Add Social Extensions in AdWords
If you’ve gotten this far in my post, I’m sure you are wondering how to add Social Extensions in AdWords! I’ve got you covered. The first thing you need to do is to connect your Google+ Page to your website, and vice versa. Then you need to add the Social Extension in Adwords. Follow the steps below to add a Social Extension to your campaigns.

1. Connect Your Website and Your Google+ Page
You can connect your Page and Site a few different ways. In order to verify ownership, Google looks for a rel=”publisher” link on your homepage to a Google+ Page. You can also add the Google+ Badge to your homepage. You can learn more about each method here.

Connecting Your AdWords Account with a Google+ Page

2. Link Your G+ profile Back to Your Homepage
Next, Google wants to see a link from your Google+ Page’s profile back to your homepage. You can easily add this to your Page by editing your profile and then adding links in the right sidebar. After clicking “edit profile” button, you can click the links section in the right sidebar to edit them. Then you can click “add custom link” and enter the label and URL for your homepage.

Linking a Google+ Page Back to a Website

3. Add Social Extension in AdWords
In order to complete the process of adding Social Extensions, you need to add the extension in your AdWords campaign. Access the campaign in question and click the “Ad Extensions” tab. Use the dropdown and select “Social Extensions”. Click “New Extension” and you’ll be presented with a text field where you need to enter the URL of your Google+ Page. You can get the URL by accessing your page in Google+ and copying the URL. Make sure you are copying the URL of your Page and not your personal profile. This is a common mistake. Click “Save” to complete the process. Google will approve the extension if everything is in place.

Adding Social Extensions in AdWords

That’s it! Once your Social Extension has been approved, your ads will be eligible to have +1 annotations show up.

Summary – Don’t Miss Out On Social Extensions
When running AdWords campaigns, it’s important to take advantage of all the powerful tools that Google provides for increasing performance. Ad Extensions in general can help advertisers increase click-through, build credibility, and land more business. And Social Extensions in particular can bring a social relevance to your ads that’s hard to match. I recommend taking the necessary steps to implement Social Extensions, and then track how they work for your business. You just might find that +1’s, and the relevance they bring to your ads, boost sales and ROI. And that’s the name of the game in SEM.


The 5 Minute Guide to Identifying Spammy, Paid Text Links Using Open Site Explorer

How To Find Spammy, Paid Text Links Open Site Explorer

It’s 5AM and I launch Outlook to check my email. There’s one email in particular that catches my eye, based on the subject line “SEO Help”. It’s from a Director of Marketing that’s reached out to me for SEO assistance after reading one of my blog posts. Her organic search traffic just got blown away by Google for some reason. You can feel the tension through the words in her email. There’s even a screenshot of their analytics reporting for Google Organic Search. It looks like traffic dropped off a cliff. She asks if I can help them identify, and then fix the problem. My next move is…

I wish that scenario was unique, but it’s not. I get emails like that one all the time. Situations like this can kill companies (literally), so I tend to take each of those emails seriously. After reading a message like that, my mind starts running through possible scenarios. Did they get hit by Panda, were they cloaking, were they keyword stuffing, were they buying paid text links, etc? Or, were they simply collateral damage (which is an unfortunate reality when Google updates its ranking algorithm).

At this point, there are several items I can analyze for the website at hand. One piece of the analysis takes 5 minutes (literally). During this 5 minute check, I can quickly review the website’s link profile. My goal is to quickly see if it looks natural, or if it looks suspicious (or downright spammy). A spammy link profile filled with rich anchor text links could mean a dreaded paid text link situation. And that could very well be the reason why the site got hammered recently. More about anchor text and paid text links soon.

Open Site Explorer
I use several tools for analyzing backlinks, but my favorite is Open Site Explorer from SEOMoz. Open Site Explorer provides a wealth of information about a website’s inbound links, and is a phenomenal tool for any SEO to have in his or her arsenal. I’m not going to cover all of the functionality in Open Site Explorer now, since my goal is to show you how to quickly identify paid text links (or spammy links). Also, while I’m walking you through the process, keep in mind how quickly this is happening. Then think about how quickly Google could also identify the issue.

A quick primer on Paid Text Links:
Inbound links with rich anchor text are powerful for helping boost search engine rankings. Therefore, many companies have tried to game Google’s algorithm by acquiring inbound links using the anchor text they want to rank for. One of the acquisition methods is buying paid text links from sites they believe are powerful to Google. This is clearly against Google’s guidelines and can get you in a lot of trouble with Big G. There have been some high profile cases of sites getting penalized for engaging in paid text links, such as JCPenny and Overstock.

So, if a company gets hammered by Google overnight, it very well could be that the company was engaging in paid text links. One quick way to identify this is to analyze the anchor text leading to a site. Note, a natural link profile will contain some rich anchor text links, but will also be balanced with other types of links. For example, a normal link profile might contain links that contain the URL, the brand name, non-descriptive links like “click here” or “learn more”, etc. Rarely (if ever) will a website naturally contain 99% rich anchor text links. Now let’s get back to the tutorial.

How To Find Spammy, Paid Text Links Using Open Site Explorer
1. Enter a URL in the text box
When you launch Open Site Explorer, simply enter a URL in the text box. Open Site Explorer will return the inbound links it has found for the URL at hand. The default view is for the page you entered in the text box, but you can easily change that to view all inbound links for the subdomain or root domain.

Entering a URL in Open Site Explorer

2. Click the Anchor Text Tab
The “Anchor Text” tab will show you all of the anchor text leading to the URL or site at hand. Anchor text is the actual text used in the link that’s pointing to the site you are analyzing. For example, imagine you had a link on your page for Twitter. The text “Twitter” in that link is the anchor text.

Clicking the Anchor Text Tab in Open Site Explorer

3. Identify Links Using Rich Anchor Text
Now the funs begins. First, you will filter you results, based on the URL you entered earlier. Keep the option for “show anchor text phrases” and then use the dropdown to select “for links to all pages on this subdomain”. Then click the “Filter” button.

Viewing anchor text for inbound links in Open Site Explorer

4. Expand Rich Anchor Text to View All Linking Pages
Open Site Explorer is going to return the links leading to the site in question, organized by anchor text. You will see a plus sign (+) next to each anchor text listing, which enables you to view the pages using that anchor text to link to the website you are analyzing. As you scan down the list, you might come across some fishy anchor text. Again, you should see a natural balance of anchor text. If you see exact match anchor text that’s extremely descriptive, it’s time to click the plus sign to view the linking pages.

Viewing linking pages in Open Site Explorer

5. Click Through The Top Linking Pages To View Them
Once you find fishy anchor text, all you need to do is click the plus sign to view all of the pages using that anchor text to link to the site at hand. Beware, if a company is engaged in paid text links, some of the linking sites could be risky to visit. Just keep this in mind while drilling through the pages. At this point, you should be able to quickly identify spammy links. For example, you might find a blog that is writing spammy, thin content about 50 different subjects. As part of each post, you might find rich anchor text links to various sites (from each post).

It’s bad enough if you find a few of these links. But if you find many like this, you could be dealing with a company that’s heavily engaged in building spammy inbound links (and could very well be paying for them). I’m referring to the company that contacted you in the first place about its drop in rankings.

Finding Paid Text Links – Next Steps
Let’s say you took the 5 minutes to analyze a website’s link profile and found a boat load of spammy links. Now it’s time to get back to the company who contacted you. At this point, you could go down a few different paths. The company clearly broke the rules, so some SEO’s will pass on helping them. Others might want to dig deeper to learn why this was done, and if the company is trying to clean up the situation. For example, there are times that new VP’s or Directors of Marketing take over and have no idea what was done in the past. That’s a much different situation than someone who has dug a deep hole SEO-wise by engaging in paid text links. How you choose to proceed is your prerogative.

And as I wrote earlier, if this process took you 5 minutes to uncover spammy, paid text links, how quickly do you think Google could find them? I’m not saying Google always picks up and penalizes sites running paid text links, but it absolutely does happen. Remember that trending cliff I mentioned earlier? :)