Google Maps ad traffic steadily growing

Over the last couple of years, Google updates have shown the company’s growing focus on monetizing searches with local intent and navigational queries. From local inventory ads, which are a version of Product Listings Ads that feature information on when a product can be picked up at a local brick-and-mortar store, to ads featured in the Local Pack, it’s clear that Google sees local searches as fertile ground for more ad interactions.

This strategy has extended to Google Maps, where ads derived from location extensions now populate for searches. These ads are steadily growing in importance, as shown by a rise in the share of traffic attributed to the “Get location details” click type.

‘Get location details’ clicks on the rise

While there’s no clean way to view all impressions and clicks from Google Maps, Google confirmed that very nearly all traffic attributed to the “Get location details” click type can be attributed to ads featured on Maps. Taking a look at the share of brand traffic for a sample of brick-and-mortar Merkle advertisers, we find that ads on Maps are steadily becoming a larger share of overall traffic.

On phones in particular, brick-and-mortar brands saw a surge in “Get location details” traffic in Q1 and now see about 5 percent of brand traffic coming from this click type. The disproportionate share on phones makes sense given the on-the-go nature of mobile device usage.

This click type is also growing as a share of non-brand text ad click share, but it tops out at around 1 percent for phones and tablets. It does seem logical that more users might type in the name of a specific store they’d like to visit in a Google Maps search than a non-brand query. However, non-brand traffic likely carries much more incremental value for advertisers, as brand searches within Google Maps would very likely return a brand’s local business locations organically without an ad present.

Interestingly, tablet click share is actually higher than on phones for non-brand, and I’m unsure what might be causing this. Maybe users are just more likely to use non-brand searches in Google Maps on tablets than on phones.

Either way, it’s clear that the volume of ad traffic coming from ads on Google Maps is steadily increasing across all device and query types. Since only Google knows how extensive its rollout has been to date in terms of query coverage and the number of ad units shown, it’s pretty tough to say how much larger these shares might grow in the future.

However, there are a few things to look out for moving forward.

Online conversion rate will likely suffer

Ads on Google Maps are classified as coming from google.com, despite the fact that users searching in Google Maps are obviously more likely looking for directions than are searchers on Google’s primary domain. As such, Google Maps searchers are less likely to convert online than google.com searchers, since they’re more likely to be looking for physical stores.

The data bears this out, with online conversion rate for “Get location details” significantly lower than overall conversion rate for brand keywords for the median advertiser.

Click and conversion volume for this click type is so low for non-brand that it’s not as easy to do a clean conversion rate comparison, but most brands also find non-brand conversion rate is significantly lower for “Get location details” clicks than overall non-brand clicks.

At this point, the traffic share is so low that there isn’t much of an impact to most programs’ bidding based solely on online return on ad spend. However, as these ads become a bigger part of total traffic, that impact will become larger. Thus, brick-and-mortar brands will need to be even more diligent about tracking orders that occur in store that are tied to paid search clicks and include this value in calculating appropriate bids.

CPC may go up

Since Google Maps traffic is categorized as part of Google search traffic rather than the search partner network, brands can’t exclude ads from showing on Google Maps if there are active location extensions, as all search campaigns must target Google search.

There’s also no way to adjust the price paid for Google Maps traffic relative to other Google search traffic. This is slightly concerning, mainly because “Get location details” clicks are more expensive on mobile devices than overall CPC for brand text ad for the median advertiser.

Interestingly, desktop CPC for “Get location details” is actually lower than overall CPC. However, on phones, which have the highest click share coming from “Get location details,” CPC is 30 percent higher. Tablet CPC is way higher, which is another weird tablet data point that’s hard to explain.

It’s not totally clear why these clicks are more expensive, but there is something of a parallel in the cost of search partner brand keyword clicks. While search partner non-brand clicks are cheaper for most advertisers than google.com traffic, the reverse is true for brand keywords.

Since there are no bidding controls for either Search Partner or Google Maps ads, there’s no way to combat these higher costs, and brands that want this traffic simply have to eat the costs or turn off traffic entirely.

Just like conversion rate, these CPC differences aren’t really impacting campaigns that much with such a small click share right now. But looking forward, that could change if Google’s able to ramp this traffic up.

Conclusion

As the default navigational app on Android, as well as a popular source of in-browser navigational directions, Google Maps has a lot of users and traffic. Google is in the process of expanding its monetization of that traffic, defaulting advertisers with active location extensions for brick-and-mortar stores into showing Google Maps ads with little targeting control.

This is part of Google’s recent larger focus on driving ad traffic from searches with local intent, with new formats like local inventory ads and ads in the Local Pack similarly targeted at drawing clicks from users looking for nearby brick-and-mortar options. Some of these ad units provide real incremental value to advertisers by getting local business information in front of interested searchers. Others, like Google Maps ads for brand keyword searches, seem redundant and less likely to drive incremental value for brands.

Looking forward, most brands would like at least some ability to adjust the price paid, as well as the option to opt out of showing ads based on location extensions in Google Maps. For brands with multiple local stores, it’d also be nice to control which location a user is shown, since there might be other considerations besides proximity which warrant promoting a specific location. Hopefully, Google will provide such controls if these ad units continue to grow in terms of traffic share.

For now, brands with physical locations should try to take advantage of in-store conversion and visit tracking, available through Google and other third parties, if possible, in order to tie these conversions to online clicks. This will help in calculating the value driven by ads, whether those on Google Maps or elsewhere across the Google search network.

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