Google’s Display URL Change Negatively Affects Click-Through Rate (CTR)

Google’s Display URL Change Negatively Affects Click-Through Rate (CTR)

Google recently made changes to how ads will show in the SERPs by altering the display URL and headlines. When they announced these changes I didn’t see how ignoring the capitalization in display URL domains will benefit any advertiser. Google has stated through their blog that this has actually helped ad click through rates in their tests and that this change also enhances the overall “user experience.” As of now, Google is still “testing” these developments, but I will not be surprised when Google decides that these changes are here for good.


Why did this change in particular not excite me? Here are my reasons:

  1. If you’re an advertiser that doesn’t have a well-known brand name, many brand-conscious companies would capitalize their brand’s name (or a variation of it, e.g. OnlinePerformanceMarketing) in the display URL. Due to Google’s changes, now it will not stand out.
  2. The subdirectory can still be capitalized in the display URL. As in*, where before it could have looked like* – I think the newer version doesn’t look as appealing (and* doesn’t look good at all to me).
  3. I think Google made this change to help Paid Search blend in more with organic results, because now if all the paid search results look identical to the organic results this may increase click-through rate (from here on out known as CTR) which in turn gets Google more money.
    • Though some people may say having a higher CTR is a positive, it doesn’t always equate to higher conversions. If need be we can consider this a possible negative.
  4. I’ve done tests of my own on a couple of ads and my CTR is down, which is to be expected when running tests, but on accounts where I didn’t touch the ads my CTR is down by as much as 32% since the change; some accounts are actually up, but not significantly (2 or 3 percent).


The tests I’ve done are on the subdirectory and the many different variations that you can use, I set the ad rotation from “Optimize for Clicks: Show Ads Expected to Provide More Clicks” to “Rotate: Show Ads More Evenly.” Here are my findings from the test that I’m currently running on the different variations of the subdirectory:

  1. Having to use* instead of* CTR is down 17%
  2. Having to use* instead of* CTR is down 21%
  3. Having to use* instead of* is down 5%
  4. Having to use* instead of* is up 11%
  5. Using* currently has only received a 1.43% CTR**
  6. Using* currently has received 3.14% CTR**
  7. Using* currently has received 2.95% CTR**


From an overall analysis the overwhelming winner was just using your domain name (e.g.*) with no subdirectories at all. The second overall winner was using lower case with dashes to separate words in your subdirectories (e.g. /widgets-and-gadgets). Obviously this is only a month worth of data on one account and things could change once users adapt to the new formatting, but if they don’t you may need to rethink your ad writing.


If you need an account audit or special consultation on your pay-per-click advertisements, please contact us, we are Google AdWords Certified Partners.


Writer’s Note: If you’re going to compare your CTR to see if this change is “affecting” you please take the following into account: seasonality (I always use year over year data, if available), changes to the account since the display URL change was made (bids, ad text, keywords, quality score, budget, adding negative keywords, general optimization, etc.) and promotions (maybe you were offering a percentage off last year at that time and not this year) – all of those will have an impact on the CTR. Please just make sure you’re comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges when doing your analysis.


*Our editor does not allow us to strip a link through our wysiwyg, these links are only there for example purposes. Also, editing it in HTML doesn’t work either – sorry for any confusion.

**I didn’t use lower case in my subdirectories before, I only included them for this test since I had done tests in the past that had proven using capital letters had a better conversion and CTR rate. Also the account average CTR before the change was at 6.34% for a six month average and 5.11% for a year average before the change.

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