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The unexpected impact of Google automated ad extensions

The unexpected impact of Google automated ad extensions

When was the last time you reviewed your Google Account settings? I mean really took a deep look under the hood? I know that it’s not something I check often.

Recently while analyzing account performance, I noticed a discrepancy in the number of leads obtained at the campaign level and keyword level. This led me to investigate further, and I discovered some interesting things about automated ad extensions.

Automated ad extensions

Automated extensions use search terms to dynamically generate informational snippets and/or links to your website below your ad text. These snippets help searchers learn more about your business.

For example, in this ad you see automated extensions for consumer ratings.


Here is a list of all types of Google automated ad extensions:

  • Consumer ratings. Shown in the image above, consumer ratings are industry-specific ratings that appear below your search ad. These ratings are based on survey data collected by Google and its trusted partners, and they usually highlight specific aspects of the business (such as customer service, selection, fees, etc.), which vary by industry. This extension includes a clickable “Ratings” link that allows searchers to see additional ratings.
  • Previous visits. This automated extension lets searchers who are logged into Google know if they’ve visited your site before from search results. The text shows the number of times previously visited, as well as when the last visit occurred. This can help your existing customers and prospects more easily navigate their way back to your website.
  • Dynamic structured snippets. This automated extension is based on your page content. When Google finds information on your website that falls into a particular search category, it may display that information as a dynamic structured snippet if it deems that information beneficial to your ad performance.
  • Seller ratings. Displayed as a star rating from one to five, seller ratings let searchers know how your business is rated. These seller ratings are taken from reputable sources that aggregate business reviews (see a list here).
  • Dynamic sitelinks. This automated ad extension creates links to additional pages on your website below the main link featured in your ad. The links chosen might be based on popular website pages or links to pages related to the search query. (Note that sitelink extensions can also be done manually for better control over the links displayed.)
  • Dynamic callouts. Similar to dynamic structured snippets, this automated extension highlights useful details about your business, products and/or services. (Note that callout extensions can also be done manually, and manual callouts will override dynamically created ones.)

Extension display criteria

When are automated ad extensions displayed? According to Google, whenever they believe that an automated extension will aid the searcher and improve ad performance. The criteria for showing automated extensions is part of the Google algorithm, and it is currently not possible to know exactly what will enable the extension to show.

Keep in mind that if you have manual extensions set up within the account, those extensions will trump the automated extension, preventing it from showing.

Conversion reporting

Conversions obtained through automated extensions are reported holistically at the campaign level and are included in the total number of conversions reported in AdWords. When drilling down further into the campaign performance, these conversions are noted in the keyword tab under the total account, but are not reported at a more granular keyword level.

This causes a discrepancy between account-level and keyword-level conversions. This also means that marketers are not able to optimize account performance based upon the auto extension performance — at the keyword level.

To view the conversion data associated with the auto extension you will need to view the performance data within the ad extension tab within your AdWords account. There you will see which extension generated the conversion for the account. The conversion data will be noted under the specific extension category but no other data will be available.

Automatic opt-in

It wasn’t until I talked with Google about this conversion discrepancy that I learned that accounts were automatically opted into Google’s Automated Extensions when the feature rolled out of beta in August 2015. I believe that many marketers don’t realize this and aren’t aware of the potential impact.

You can turn off automated extensions, however, and Google provides instructions for how to do so in the AdWords Help documentation:

“To disable an automated extension: 

  1. Sign into your AdWords account.
  2. Click the Ad extensions tab.
  3. Click the “View” dropdown and select Automated extensions report. 
  4. Click Automated extension options (advanced).
  5. Click Edit next to “Show all automated extensions for this account”.
  6. Click Exclude specific automated extensions for this account
  7. Check the box next to the automated extension you’d like to disable. 
  8. Click Save.”

My recommendation

Digital marketers should realize that AdWords accounts have been opted into this program, and automated extensions may show.

In general, my experience with automated extensions has been positive. These extensions typically do increase the total number of conversions obtained. My main concern is that I am unable to optimize the account performance at a granular level. With automated extensions, marketers do not have control regarding what Google is selecting to show to the searcher. Although you can see how the automated extensions are performing within your account, you are unable to optimize the extensions to improve performance.

I recommend that you review the available data for your automated extensions. If you see that performance is improving, leave them live and continuously monitor results. Remember, you always have the option to opt out of certain extensions if they are not improving your digital marketing results.