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Last November a new ad type started popping up all over Google Maps: bubble ads. When I first wrote about the topic in December, I found a slew of complaints from small business owners, but very little coverage from the marketing world. It amazes me that despite all of the uproar and confusion, 9 months later, coverage is still quite minimal. Below I’ve outlined four of the most common questions that I’ve heard from clients and colleagues.
What exactly is a bubble ad? It’s the ad you see in the bottom of the bubble that pops up when you click a place marker in Google Maps. It takes up approximately ⅓ of the entire bubble real estate, giving it a huge amount of prominence in the space.
How do I show bubble ads for my business? While many seem to think that these ads are a result of running an Adwords Express campaign, this is false. These are in fact Google Adwords ads. In order to run your own bubble ads, you must have your Adwords campaign opted into the Search Partners Network, which includes Google Maps in its network. Before you jump up and change your campaign settings, there are a few caveats you should be aware of. First, Google only allows advertisers to target the Search Partners Network in conjunction with the Google Search Network. Given that the SP network experiences substantially lower click-through-rates, and often yields lower quality traffic, this is not ideal. Ideally you would want to separate the two networks for individual management and analysis. You also cannot strictly target your advertising to Google Maps. This means that if you opt into the SP network with the goal of running bubble ads, there is no guarantee that your ads will even show on Google Maps.
How do I stop competitors from showing ads in my bubble? Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed way of getting rid of your competitors’ ads. I’ve heard rumors that if you run your own bubble ads, targeting your brand name as a keyword, that it will block your competitors ads from showing up. While this may decrease the frequency in which your competitors ads are shown, it will not block them completely. Adwords is auction based, which means that no one advertiser will receive domination of a particular ad slot.
Do these ads actually get clicked? The general consensus is no: these ads do not generate very many clicks, often due to the extreme irrelevance between the ad and the search query. Many experts argue that the algorithm fueling the Google Maps search function is incapable of appropriately targeting ads to searches. This is nicely illustrated by Blumenthal’s rather comical gallery of inappropriate bubble ads which proves how extraneous these ads can be.
At the end of the day, there is no one answer to how you should integrate bubble ads into your search strategy. The key is to know the facts, and to make a decision based on your business and marketing goals. Local search is gaining more prominence in the search market every day, especially in the automotive sector. This is most likely going to push local-focused ad formats such as these to the forefront of concern for business owners and advertisers. I’m still holding out hope that Google will someday open up some transparency and control into targeting the Search Partners network. Until then, we’ll just have to make do! How are you handling bubble ads? I’d love to hear stories and feedback!