The biggest trends & changes in PPC so far in 2017

In 2016, mobile drove the nearly $6 billion year-over-year increase in search spend and and surpassed desktop for the first time, according to the IAB. Now that mobile is a given and we no longer have to wonder if this is its year, let’s look at the big trends, launches and news we’ve seen so far from Google AdWords and Bing Ads in 2017, starting with the other key given: machine learning.

Machine learning

  • As former Googler and Optmyzr founder Frederick Vallaeys outlined in his column, The AdWords 201 roadmap is loaded with artificial intelligence, after the Google Marketing Next event, machine learning is powering just about every innovation in search marketing. A perfect example is Google’s earlier smart display campaigns announcement. Those campaigns rely on machine learning to automate just about every facet of the campaign.
  • Another big development that has machine learning at its heart came in mid-March. Google declared it was expanding the meaning of close variants in exact match and would soon ignore word order and add or ignore function words in exact match keywords.
    • Indulge me a side story on why this industry is such a great place to be. This news hit on the Friday before SMX West kicked off the following week. Fellow conference moderators Brad Geddes, Matt van Wagner and I hosted a last-minute session at 8 a.m. on the second day of the conference. The night before, we wondered if it might be the three of us talking to ourselves, but the large room was nearly filled by 7:55. We had a lively discussion (you can hear parts of that on this podcast) with lots of great questions and ideas. I later learned a Google project manager also came to hear the feedback. That more than hundred people got up extra early to talk shop and share ideas is a testament to the ethos of this industry.
    • Merkle’s Andy Taylor dove into the agency’s data to analyse the early impact and published his findings on Search Engine Land in June.
  • An update to Ad Rank thresholds began rolling out in May to account for the contextual meaning of queries such as whether a query is related to recent news versus a consumer product.

Conversion tracking & attribution

  • The first half of 2017 saw the final sunsetting of AdWords Converted Clicks and the introduction of Google Attribution, the biggest product release announced at Google Marketing Next. Search marketers have had access to some attribution data in AdWords and Analytics, but Attribution pulls in more multichannel conversion data and feeds back into AdWords for bidding strategies. Read more on what Attribution means for search marketers.
  • Google also added Maximise Conversions to its suite of automated bidding strategies at the end of May. And if you regularly import offline conversions into AdWords, you can schedule those imports now.
  • There was big news in online-to-offline conversion tracking with Google’s in-store sales measurement programs. Retailers can upload their own loyalty card or other customer email lists into AdWords, or in-store sales conversions will automatically show up in AdWords with a program powered by partnerships Google has with various financial vendors that Google says gives it coverage of 70 percent of credit card transactions in the US.
  • Google can also now track and report on store visits from YouTube campaigns.

Ads

  • In January, Google launched a pilot called “Ads Added by AdWords” in which 2,000 accounts were selected to participate (and could opt out). The system automatically adds ads into the testing rotation in ad groups.
  • The green outline around Google’s “Ad” label on text ads became official at the end of February. Take a walk down memory lane with our visual history of Google ad labeling.
  • In March, Dynamic Search Ads got page feeds and also now support expanded text ads. Both headlines are dynamically generated, and advertisers get the extra characters in the description.

  • That same month, Google started testing a second description line in expanded text ads. That remains a limited test. And price extensions rolled out on all devices. These extensions typically show in a swipeable carousel on mobile, a format Google has continued to experiment with, including showing multiple extension types in a carousel.
  • And Google made several announcements for call ads. Headlines in call-only ads became the default, and call extensions can now be set at the account level. New reporting columns for phone impressions and calls became available at the keyword and ad levels.
  • AMP for Ads is ramping up. Google launched a beta that enables advertisers to point their mobile search ads to AMP-enabled landing pages. Frederick Vallaeys also wrote a prescient column on the value of using AMP landing pages, titled “The best-kept AdWords secret: AMP your landing pages.” In June, I profiled why the early findings from testing AMP mobile landing pages by one e-commerce company have led them to develop a full AMP experience for mobile search audiences.
  • While we’re on the subject of mobile speed for e-commerce, Google also moved to open the Purchases on Google beta in mid-May to make buying from PLAs faster.

  • And, back on the automation theme, the automated call extensions program continued to roll out to more advertisers. Google automatically pulls phone numbers into ads from advertisers’ websites if they don’t have call extensions set up. That news followed a January announcement that Google would display local phone numbers automatically with location extensions instead of a central number.

Audiences

  • Audience targeting has continued to be a major theme this year.
  • In-market audiences and similar audiences for Search and Shopping both rolled out in AdWords in the first half of 2017.
  • Bing Ads enabled the ability to exclude lists in retargeting campaigns in February and has begun testing in-market and custom audiences.

Shopping

  • Bing Ads added inventory feeds and search query reports at the product level in April. It later rolled out Merchant Promotions for Shopping campaigns in the US, allowing merchants to highlight special offers in their product ads. Those interested can fill out an online form to apply.
  • Shopping ads are starting to show on the Display Network. Google started the pilot called Retail Shopping on Display on fashion and home design retail sites. FYI, Google automatically opted all advertisers into this pilot as of May 29. Advertisers can opt out, but at this point it’s not possible to set up a separate display Shopping campaign (volume is still pretty low).
  • Google Shopping was also at the heart of the EU’s record fine levied against Google for antitrust violations in late June. I believe the EU’s ruling against Google is absurd, but it could have an impact in the US. For more, read How the EU fine will ruin Google Shopping for the consumer by columnist and Crealytics head Andreas Reiffen.

UI Changes

  • At long last, Google gave advertisers the ability to see historical Quality Score data in AdWords. It is also changing the bidding interface in the UI to show bid suggestions for various page positions.
  • Another million or so more advertisers got access to the new interface called AdWords Next. Google says it will be available to everyone by the end of the year.
  • Bing Ads rolled out expanded device targeting, which gives advertisers the ability to set up mobile-only campaigns. Additionally, all advertisers got access to Bing Ads Editor for Mac on the first of March.