Political ads on Google are seriously big business. The company’s regularly updated Transparency Report keeps a running tab on ad spend by state and by individual candidate. Not surprisingly, California boasts the biggest spend, at $44million since May 31, 2018. In fact, between states and individuals, nearly half a billion dollars has been spent in the last year and a half.
This is probably no big surprise, as it’s almost impossible to use the search engine and NOT see a political advertisement. Whether it’s your local podiatrist or how many chickens exist per person in the world (8.82, as of 2016), ads about candidates seem to crop up regardless of their irrelevancy to our search terms.
With 2020 being a key election year, the ad spend for presidential contenders has only risen. Mike Bloomberg 2020 Inc spent more than any other one entity, capping out at $62M before he dropped from the race. Biden for President comes in second, still $19M behind Mike, at $43M.
Our current Commander in Chief takes the cake between his two top advertisers: Trump Make America Great Again Committee has spent $41M, while Donald J. Trump for President Inc. tossed another $37M into the pot, for a total of $78M.
It’s obvious they’re onto something because regardless of our actual political affiliation, or even our search history, we’re still getting bombarded by ads on all sides. But why are candidates putting so much money into political ads on Google?
The Wild West of Digital Political Advertising
A recent article from Vox, aptly titled “Why are you seeing this digital political ad? No one knows!” explores the ways that digital platforms make candidate’s investment in them tempting.
“Some platforms have chosen not to allow any political ads at all, including Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Spotify. Others have clamped down on who can buy political ads and how they present them… As for the big guys: Google has placed several restrictions on ad targeting– only location, age, and gender can be used… Facebook, which recently announced a moratorium on new political ads in the week before election, also has a transparency section that includes a political ad library, but it lets its political ads target users the same way most of its other ad categories can. The company also said it won’t forbid politicians from lying in ads…”
That neatly summarizes why even the most liberal Google user will still see ads for Trump and the most conservative Google user will still see ads for Biden. When the target audience features are so narrow, it’s a lot harder to nail down exactly who gets to see your ads. With age, gender, and location being the only allowed factors, it’s pretty much a political advertising free-for-all, with very little actual targeting happening.
While that’s nice in some respects, it’s pretty unlikely that anyone is changing their mind this close to election season. We’ve pretty much got a firm grip on the pros and cons of the individual candidates, so seeing ads for the opposite candidate of our personal choice isn’t going to have us checking a different box come November.
But, for those still riding the fence about whether they’re going to vote at all, political ads on Google can work to push someone off of that fence. But, the challenge for candidates is still trying to be seen in a digital world that is full of infinite information.
Be Seen with Callout Extensions
While it might seem a little too-good-to-be-true, simply taking up more space can help your campaign stand out.
Take at look at this screen grab of page 1 SERP:
You’ll notice that the Biden Harris 2020 ad takes up twice the space of the Donald Trump ad located directly below it. That’s because of a little trick that Google calls a “callout extension.”
The purpose of a callout extension is to extend offers to the audience that you wouldn’t normally be able to fit into the typical ad space. In that particular photo, Biden Harris 2020 offers links to both absentee voter registration and general registration, given that particular ad more space on the SERP.
Callouts are viewable on both desktop and mobile SERPs, and allow you to add up to 10 different links or offers in your promotional space. They’re also fully customizable, allowing you to create your own text, schedule, and position on the ad.
For campaigns, this is not only useful for offering information on more particular “offers,” like public events or yard sign opt-ins, but it’s also great for simply taking up more room on the page. Sometimes, bigger really is better, especially when it comes to competing for space on the world’s most-used search engine.
Google’s best practices for callout extensions mainly focus on the specificity of the “offer” and the text describing it. From their general information page on callout extensions, they recommend:
- Be specific: Give detailed information to customers to help them decide if you have what they’re looking for. For example, try saying “34 MPG max mileage” instead of “Great fuel economy.”
- Add extensions at the account level: Make sure you have extension coverage across all of your ads by adding extensions at the account level. Create account-level callouts that apply to your entire business (like “24/7 phone support”).
- Customize extensions at lower levels: If you’d like to highlight offerings or features that are only applicable to certain parts of your business (like “free gift wrapping” or “pick-up service”), set up more granular callouts at the campaign and ad-group levels. Keep in mind that lower-level extensions always trump higher-level extensions, so callouts you’ve created at the account level won’t show if you add callouts at the campaign and/or ad group level.
- Pick the right format: Unlike structured snippet extensions, which showcase a complete group of products or services that your business provides, callout extensions should highlight individual aspects of your business in a few words or a short phrase.