Google Enhanced Campaigns: Focus on the User, Not the Device

You may well have heard and read about the highly publicized updated from Google this morning which, though announced today, is due to roll out over the coming weeks and months. The short version is:

Pros

  • No longer separating campaigns by desktop/tablet/mobile, saving time and complexity
  • Desktop & tablet to be merged, with mobile targeting being given a bid multiplier
  • New option to bid up / down by location (proximity bidding)
  • No more targeting mobiles by specific device, Google knows whether to send traffic to GPlay or the App Store for app downloads
  • Ad group level site links, and (finally) specific site link reporting
  • Improved conversion tracking, including (free) call tracking and import of offline sales data (eventually).

Cons

  • Potential bid volatility and loss of direct control
  • Short term issues on reporting via 3rd party tools – though we expect our technology partners to get a full brief on how the changes will surface in the API feeds.

Google Targeting image

And now the long version…

Over the next several months, Google will gradually roll-out a new campaign structure in AdWords that looks to “tear down device-specific silos in digital advertising and better align digital media strategies with user behavior”. This means that advertisers will not have to (or, be able to) create separate campaigns targeting specific devices, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity to advertisers. It will reduce the complexity of an advertiser’s AdWords account by consolidating all device targeting into a single campaign, introduce new bidding controls, and allow for more relevant messaging based on a multitude of variables (time of day, location, device, etc.). Very similar to the hour-of-day ad scheduling option we’ve long-since utilized to cover only supporting store opening times or to push when TV spots are showing, we will now have the function extended to target, for example, a person looking for a place to eat dinner (from 5 – 8 p.m.) within a certain distance of your store locations, and to speak to them with mobile-specific messaging.

Google’s partners and agencies, including OMD, had noted that in many ways, account management was becoming too fractured and complex. While search managers typically like this level of control, it also led to complicated account structures and an approach that didn’t lend itself to thinking holistically about the searcher, but rather the device. This is Google’s first step in trying to encourage advertisers to shift their approach.

In doing so however, they are also removing something that advertisers have grown accustomed to and planned marketing budgets around – the ability to allocate budgets based on device (i.e. desktop, tablets, or mobile).  With this consolidation, Google is taking the key step of beginning to provide visibility into cross-device behavior – showing, for example, that a user who started their search on their phone may have later made a purchase on their desktop computer. This level of visibility has been a major industry challenge and to-date has only been possible in very limited circumstances with additional technology integrations.

By combining data across devices, platforms, and other data sources (such as in-store POS systems), Google is now able to deliver a much more complete picture of how media dollars are being spent, understand performance across channels and devices, and finally make some solid steps forward towards closing the online/offline loop. With this, they have also taken the opportunity to streamline the tools that advertisers use to manage their advertising against these data points. We welcome this push forward from Google towards evolving how paid search is managed.  However this is new territory and as such there are going to be stumbling blocks and differences in opinion as to the best way to proceed.

Our POV:

Benefits

While there are many components to this update, there are several new features we are very excited to introduce to our campaigns:

Consolidated Bid Management/Account Structure

Google will remove the ability to break out campaigns by device type.  This means setting a budget for a mobile-only campaign will unfortunately no longer be possible.  To help users manage the different behavior of various devices, Google is introducing bidding tools to allow advertisers to set multipliers to increase or decrease bids on various devices based on a single max bid.  So, you might set desktop at 100% and mobile at 50% if you want to emphasize desktop, for example. The current understanding is that each campaign will maintain its own device-specific Quality Score so that one advertiser’s strong desktop quality score does not impact another advertiser’s mobile Quality Score for example. Additionally, Google has a component of this called “stacked bidding,” where advertisers can include several layers of bid preferences based on a variety of circumstances such as the one mentioned above.

This is very similar to the time-based “ad-scheduling” we have had available for many years, but is now extended to cover the different devices

More Granular Site Link Management/Reporting

Now that device campaigns will be consolidated, Google is enabling advertisers to create separate sets of site links by device so that an advertiser can include mobile-only links, for example.  As part of this, Google will also report on full performance breakouts down to the individual site link level. Combined, this will allow advertisers to deliver a more relevant site experience when site links show, and allow more effective optimizations to be made. The reporting in particularly is long over-due so will come as a welcome addition to our reporting options.

Situational Bidding and Ad Creation

With the increased visibility gained regarding user behavior across devices and locations, Google now enables advertisers to break out ad copy and set bids based on the user’s situation.  For example, it may be beneficial to show one set of ads to a customer showing geo-specific intent with their query, versus another set to users who appear to be doing comparison shopping for products at home. Or, for instance, a retailer could increase bids on people that are within a close proximity to their store locations who previously searched for products the store carries on their home computer. Again, this functionality had previously been available in Beta-form under the title of “proximity bidding” so it comes as no surprise that it is being rolled up into the new format.

Multiple Conversion Types

The previous iteration of Google’s conversion tag produced simple results – it counted page views on the page it was placed. This is fine for “Thank you” confirmation pages  but gave advertisers limited control over conversion types. Google is now facilitating multiple conversion types through an expanded list that includes more formal recognition of call conversions, as well as adding support for offline conversions, though these will, we assume, to come from 3rd part data integrations.

Cross-Device Conversion Attribution

Google has said that advertisers will finally be able to measure conversion paths that may have spanned multiple devices. This means, for example, that when a user searches for a product in a retail location on their mobile device to compare prices, and later decides to purchase it through a paid search ad when they get home, there will be a thread that ties these two touch points together in the reporting. When viewed in aggregate, this will give a much more complete attribution picture of how users are truly behaving as they go about their day interacting with a variety of devices/channels.

The details on the release and full functionality of this feature are still somewhat in question at this time, so we suspect that this may be more of a long-term enhancement. Clearly it will be game-changing as and when released.

 

Challenges

While we are, with such a wide-ranging release, excited to see the benefits of a large number of these changes, there are several that we have reservations about based on initially available information.  We anticipate a few challenges that are worth highlighting:

Bid Volatility

We’ve seen that when Google releases major changes regarding how bids are managed or new targeting options, bid behavior tends to fluctuate. We expect to see some variance in average CPCs at the account level — particularly around mobile where Google will be removing its Smart Pricing algorithm that helped keep mobile CPCs low for some time.

It is quite possible that average CPCs will see a net increase as a result of this change.  This bidding by device will be set at the campaign level, which removes a level of control previously taken advantage of by more sophisticated advertisers and potentially further increases CPCs. You can be assured we will be closely monitoring this and teams will take appropriate action, including shifting spend away from Google to other engines (such as Yahoo) if necessary.

Conversion Data Segmentation / Third Party Tools

As a developed team, many of our client accounts have AdWords managed through a 3rd party bid management technology and as such it is possible that some granularity in conversion data at the device level may be lost with the consolidation of campaigns.  Google is making changes to their AdWords API to support this update, and will be working closely with their technology partners to minimize any potential impact or loss of visibility.

Budgeting/Device Control

Many of our clients recognize the importance of mobile and tablet devices and have frequently chosen to support them through initiatives that often include device-specific budgets.  Based on how Google has chosen to consolidate device targeting, this will no longer be an option.  We have provided feedback on the importance of being able to manage device budgets independently, and we will be working closely with our clients on potential solutions for this shortcoming.

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