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What changed in PPC in 2016?

29 Dec 2016
By atom42
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2016, eh? What a year. In the wider world, not such a great year. Let’s definitely look ahead to 2017 there. Looking back at 2016 from the perspective of PPC however, and there were a lot of big, exciting changes.

Here we’re looking back on three changes in the space which we thought were particularly important.

Expanded Text Ads shook up the world of PPC

One of the biggest fundamental changes in AdWords in its 16-year existence was the introduction of Expanded Text Ads – a new ad format offering around 50% greater space for ad messaging, with a double headline, expanded description, and changing the display URL to two potential ‘path’ fields.

Freed from the limiting shackles of the 25, 35, 35 format, advertisers have begun to test this ad format throughout the year, with mixed results. On paper this format promises so much, with greater space for ad messaging, allowing advertisers to put across a greater list of USPs and benefits to potential clients & customers. Whilst this has happened in some cases, ETAs are not a magic bullet. Google has acknowledged this by pushing back the deadline for the switch to ETAs to January 31st, 2016. They require careful testing and optimisation, just like regular text ads, to improve performance.

The ETA shift began back in February with Google’s announcement to remove text ads from the right hand side of the search results – a major change to the PPC landscape which sent fears through the PPC community around the prospect of rising CPCs and squeezing smaller advertisers out of the auction. As it happens, CPCs haven’t risen in general. At the time, this change seemed to be a move to align the look and feel of desktop results with mobile, in this mobile-first world, but we now also know that it was designed to facilitate the ETAs that were announced later in the year.

Demographics for search brought greater audience insight

Audience targeting is becoming increasingly important in paid search, as we move away from a pure intent-based model, to a mixture of intent + audiences. Audiences have been gradually been creeping their way more and more into search, with RLSA, and now Customer Match becoming staples in PPC strategy.

Keywords are great for showing intent, to an extent, but are limited in that two very different people can search for the same keyword, and expect different experiences from the page they land on. Men and women searching for the keyword ‘coats’ might be expecting to see different styles from the other, as might a younger person vs someone older.

Demographics for search was released out of beta by Google in September, and allows bid modifiers to be placed against male and female searchers, and searchers from different age groups. These can be used to raise bids on highly-performing demographics, where there is room to increase CPA to gain more conversions, or vice versa. You can even bid down by 100% to exclude people of certain demographics, if the data shows that they do not convert efficiently.

We’ve tested demographic bid changes extensively across a couple of our clients – haart (estate agents) and Christopher Ward (luxury watch retailer) – and have seen fantastic results from both increasing bids for high-performing demographics, and reducing bids for lower performers. In the former case, adding a 10% bid increase to one particular age range for haart increased clicks by 47%, with conversions improving 61%. This lead to a decrease in CPA, despite the bid rise. For another age bracket, which was performing far worse, a bid decrease of 90% reduced CPA by 64%, whilst only sacrificing a small number of conversions.

Cross-device remarketing helps close the remarketing loop

Cross-device conversions were a welcome introduction to AdWords back in 2013. With mobile having become increasingly important every year (and now mobile-first – more people search on mobile than desktop, globally), and with more and more fragmented consumer conversion paths, the lack of ability to remarket to people across desktop, mobile, and tablet has been increasingly frustrating. Until recently cookie-based models continued to persist for remarketing, meaning a user who visits your site from mobile, and then later desktop, for instance, is cookied twice. This causes issues of over-serving remarketing ads to certain people, and is unhelpful for attributing true conversion value to each path to conversion.

In late 2016, Google finally started to close the loop on remarketing, rolling out cross-device remarketing across both search and display. Now Google will look at signed-in users and be able to remarket to users who visited your site on one device, but searched for you again on a different device. This is big! It also coupled with RLSA lists being allowed a 540 day duration, up from 180 – good news for smaller advertisers who might need longer to build a big enough list to remarket to, and also for clients with long consideration periods/repeat purchase cycles. Audience lists can also now be applied at campaign level, rather than just ad group level, making roll-out and application of lists far easier.

That wasn’t all…

For us, these are three of the biggest changes that happened in 2016, but it was by no means all that happened. Google in particular had a busy year, and honourable mentions go out to…

  • Various new ad extensions – price, message, promotions, affiliate locations
  • Device-level bidding
  • Increased requirement for seller ratings from 30 to 150 reviews
  • Similar audiences in search
  • Smart bidding
  • Responsive ads
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