Approximately 3 weeks ago, a new ad type was spotted by Laura Alisanne in Google Maps: bubble ads. Google is now displaying ads within the info bubble that pops up when you click on a map marker within Google Maps. These new ads have managed to fly under the radar of the search marketing world for the most part, as Google didn’t feel the need to let us know about the new ad type. Meanwhile, small business owners have been crying out for help in the forums, and others have expressed a number of concerns about these new ad types. Despite all the controversy, I was determined to find the good in Google’s new bubble ads that clearly are, let’s face it, probably here to stay. In my search to find the good, I also encountered the bad as well as the ugly.
It is possible to advertise directly against your competitors’ name and location by displaying ads in Google Maps. Online advertising is becoming increasingly competitive, so the ability to display ads against your competitors is appealing to some businesses. This new ad space is particularly competitive because the ad is given almost as much real estate in the info bubble as is the place page that the bubble represents.
Local map optimization is especially important now, given that mobile search is gaining momentum, and that proximity is increasingly being factored into the relevance “score.” While your local SEO services are still building up influence, placing ads on Google Maps is a great way to make sure that your business is found.
Previously, small business owners had a good amount of control over what information was displayed on their place pages. Even if ads were shown on the main place page, the place page would take up 85% of the real estate, and the ads only received maybe 15%, and were placed in the right hand side of the page. Small businesses feel that they have lost a substantial amount of control over their place pages since the new Google Map ads are stealing the spotlight. These business owners are not happy, as they’ve expressed in Google forums here, here, and here.
Mike Blumenthal and others argue that the algorithm running the search within Google Maps is incapable of determining which places should have ads, and that searches within maps lose the context needed to appropriately target ads to searches. Mark Blumenthal provides a rather comical gallery of inappropriate bubble ads, providing excellent examples of how poor the targeting is for these bubble ads. This is actually nothing new; the targeting of Google Map ads has always been just shy of horrendous. It simply hasn’t been of great concern until recently, as the Google map ads were fairly innocuous. Now, however, they are displayed up front and center, as one browses the different business locations that were returned for his search. Even if the ad shown is relevant and appropriate – is it fair?
When you break it all down, Google has created a fuel for competition, leaving businesses with no choice but to defend themselves. Many small to medium sized businesses cannot afford (or have not yet realized the high ROI) of implementing paid search advertising or search engine optimization. However, they do often manage to set up a small website, maybe create a Facebook page, and the smart ones claim and manage their Google place page. This is often the extent of their online efforts. By allowing ads to be shown on the map marker pop-up, the need for small businesses to start investing in pay per click management services to simply defend their own business grows tenfold.
The problem here is that Google has not provided businesses with any reasonable defense options against these bubble ads. There is no way, at the moment, to prevent bubble ads being shown on the info bubble for your business. On the same token, setting up these bubble ads to display is far from simple. In order to display such ads one must set up a pay per click campaign via Google AdWords, targeting both Google Search and the Google Search Partners Network. The problem with advertising on the Search Partners Network is that it does not offer the transparency needed to effectively test and optimize ads served within the network. Also, opting into the Search Partners Network does not guarantee that your ad will be shown on Google Maps, or in the bubble ad space.
So if you are worried about your competitors placing ads on your business’ info bubble, take it as a compliment. Then, I suggest you ignore it and wait until Google offers more transparency in placing ads on Google Maps. In experience, ads shown within the Search Partners Network have a drastically lower click through rate than Google Search, so the likelihood of someone clicking on a Google bubble ad is lower than usual. With that said, if you really, really want to have your ads shown in the Google bubble ad space, I suggest you do all that you can do with Google Search first, and then experiment with the Search Partners Network. You never know when you’ll hit a gold mine.