Google’s most recent text ad expansion is further indication that the way digital advertising is being used by marketers is changing. Where only two years ago ad copywriters had 130 characters to get their message across, they now have 360 characters to share with the world.
The changes are relatively straightforward:
- Headline character length remains the same (30 characters), but an extra headline is now available for three in all. This is an increase of 30 characters or 50 percent.
- Description character length increases from 80 to 90 characters, and an extra description line is now available as well. This is an increase of 100 characters or 125 percent.
Skeptics will point out that this is just Google’s way of pulling the standard expanded text ad unit in line with their new Responsive Search Ad units. But this change is also an opportunity for something bigger: marketers serving a more compelling and more transparent message to their target audiences.
Why did Google update its text ad character limits (again)?
The obvious reason is the one mentioned above: more similar ad units mean less of a burden on Google’s auction and ad serving servers. This is an important operational move for Google.
What’s less clear is what Google expects to deliver to its advertisers as a result of the new ads. The original expanded text ad update hasn’t really moved the needle, and it’s tough to believe that Google feels like an even bigger increase will do so. What it will do is make competition more fierce. That means that earning an average position that’s high on a page becomes much more important because larger ads will push lower-ranking ads further down a page, especially on mobile. Where competition is higher, so too are costs, and so too are Google’s revenue streams.
Why Google’s text ads update is important
We know that Google isn’t the only one to increase the size of their ad units recently. Twitter’s increase from 140 to 280 characters for tweets may be long forgotten (even though it happened only nine months ago), and Facebook may be subtly reining in character counts in its ads, but it benefits display networks such as Facebook to tend towards brevity. These are platforms where the creative is supposed to run the show, anyway. That Twitter and now Google have increased their inventory says many things, but one in particular: there’s an increased pressure on brands to be more transparent, and to focus more on meaning what they say in their marketing message.
With scandals like Facebook/Cambridge Analytica making front-page news on a regular basis, it’s no surprise that users are more suspicious of digital advertising—not just how brands are using their personal data, but also how brands present themselves before a relationship has started. Having 360 characters in a text ad allows that opportunity.
How to use Google’s new expanded text ads
Unfortunately, Google’s still doing their thing where they break up headlines using the pipe (|), which means that headlines are still going to be choppy. Personally, we’d love to see them give us 75 characters for a headline with no pipes. That would allow us to be a lot more creative in our copywriting, but sadly, nobody’s asking us. We expect that initially, we’ll see a lot of brands use this extra space as a place to promote their URL, or to promote a key feature or service, much like many advertisers are already doing with callout extensions.
The description increase is where there’s a real opportunity. A full 180 characters of unbroken space is a lot for advertisers who’ve never had anything like it in the platform. If you’re smart about it, you can tell a compelling brand story in 180 characters, tying your brand into whatever service, product or offering you’re promoting and still having room for a brief call to action at the end of the description.