Earlier this year when Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google attended an antitrust hearing, a ton of transparency concerns that were bubbling came to the surface. It was thought to be just a small part of a larger series of antitrust investigations, but with miscommunication and updates affecting the visibility of search terms, we’ve since questioned whether or not Google is blindsiding advertisers.
Naturally, this leads us to discuss the ethical implications of PPC. Is it fair that people can pay to get to the top of search results? Is “ethical PPC” as righteous as it seems?
Let’s take a look.
What is ethical PPC?
Ethical PPC refers to PPC campaigns that adhere to the ethics of paid media and digital marketing. It’s based on values such as expertise, authority and trust, but also takes into account things like transparency and authenticity.
In other words, advertisers should use PPC advertising to provide user-focused content, rather than try to exploit them. In turn, Google should conform to the same set of rules.
However, with recommendations from friends remaining the most credible form of advertising among consumers, PPC ads come with an inherent drawback. A large number of viewers already believe them to be less reliable, which is no surprise considering these two major questions:
How do I know what’s an ad?
The truth is, you probably don’t. Paid ads used to be distinguishable from organic search results with their bright green outlined labels, but have since been replaced with subtle black ‘Ad’ labels on platforms such as Google.
While Google stated this would allow users to “quickly identify where the information is coming from”, this hasn’t been the case. Advertisers on Twitter were the first to say that it’s made the separation even more difficult, making us doubt Google’s loyalty to the PPC community all over again.
Fundamentally, it hasn’t been clear since this update whether people know when they’re clicking on an ad. In fact, new data shows that 77% of people believe Google deceives users, using tricks to make them click on paid results rather than organic.
Is it fair that the biggest budgets always win?
Money is an undeniable differentiator when it comes to ranking. If you’ve got a big budget, you can jump right to the top of the search results. This is because Google gives the ad with the highest Ad Rank top position on the results page, and one of the things it looks at is your maximum bid.
There are a lot of other factors which influence your position, but two high-quality ads can have a completely different outcome if one has a higher spend. One of them is obviously paying more for a better result – but it doesn’t take into account how much hard work has been put into the business, the issues faced by smaller businesses, etc.
So, while a lot of articles will have you believe that Google only analyses your expected CTR, ad relevance and landing page experience to determine your position, this isn’t necessarily true. You have to have some sort of budget under your belt to compete, and not being able to do so will limit the amount of attention drawn to your ads.
For instance, the results in top position on Google have an average CTR of 35%, which quickly halves to 15% if you’re in second. If you don’t have the money to get that high, your impressions won’t be anywhere near the same level.
3 ways to remain ethical in today’s climate
As advertisers navigate Covid-19, a circle of mistrust and battle for conversions all at the same time, taking an ethical approach to digital marketing can work in your favour. After all, consumers are more likely to sway towards brands who align with their personal core values.
Here are 3 elements for you to think about:
1. Being authentic
Every product and service you promote in your PPC ads should be real, harmless to your users and backed by a relevant governing body. For example, if you’re selling personalised meal plans, you should avoid making any promises about weight loss or providing false information about guarantees.
What’s more, if you’re trying to see results with a tighter budget, stick to A/B testing and making small changes. Emphasising your products or services to a point where they seem too good to be true isn’t going to improve your ranking. Nor will it improve your conversions once someone clicks your ad, it will actually put them off your brand.
You need to be honest with your audience to stand yourself in good stead with Google, so that’s definitely something to keep in mind.
2. Improving relevancy
Your ads need to be relevant to increase your Quality Score, but they should also give people what they’re expecting from an ethical standpoint. Providing false or misleading information won’t help to build your brand – getting straight to the point will.
If you’re struggling to find relevant keywords, there are plenty of ways of finding them, for examples using Google’s Keyword Planner or Adzooma’s ‘Add New Keyword’ feature. This does the hard work for you by looking at the top-performing keywords relevant to your business and identifies new keywords that will lead to an increase in clicks. And it’s free to use.
People are much more likely to click on a headline that reflects closely to what they were searching for, and Google celebrates these small wins by rewarding you with a higher Quality Score. Focusing on relevancy is a no brainer.
3. Prioritizing customer relationships
At a time where our inboxes are flooded with fake news and endless scandals about political advertising, the least you can do is prioritize helping your users. Think about what will help them before you scramble to get more clicks.
It isn’t all about your revenue – being ethical in PPC is about providing valuable information people need, which will drive them to your brand thereafter.
Although it’s less about your customers and more about your competitors, you should also make a conscious effort to avoid things like click fraud. Being an all-round ethical brand is about acting morally in every sense, so trying to harm other people’s advertising won’t reward you with anything positive.
Rising above ethics and antitrust
It seems there will never be a clear answer regarding the ethical implications of PPC, especially taking into account the actions we continue to see from search engines. But, by having a greater understanding and considering these techniques now, you will be in a much better position to improve your PPC campaigns and bring in new customers.