PPC in 2014 - The Year in Paid Search

December 23, 2014

PPC in 2014 – The Year in Paid Search

Paid search is always changing: platforms are always bringing out new features or changing old ones. So here’s a reminder of all that’s happened in PPC in 2014, the year in paid search.


Flexible Conversion Counting came in February. The most obvious change was in naming: Conversions (one-per-click) and Conversions (many-per-click) columns turned into Converted clicks and Conversions. But it also means you can count only the unique conversions for one conversion action and all the conversions for another – for example, count only one conversion if someone signs up to a newsletter twice, but count every time they buy a product.

On April the 9th Google announced that search queries weren’t going to be passed onto websites in the referrer data from secured searches. This is a bit awkward for third party tools, who generally coped by focusing on keywords rather than search queries (which can easily be sent to a website by tagging URLs with {keyword}). Search query data is still available in AdWords, so the impact of this change wasn’t too major – especially compared to the woes of (not provided) for organic traffic – but it’s still a reminder that you should try and get as much of your traffic as possible covered by exact keywords, for more accurate reporting.

On April the 22nd Google made a mass of announcements on live webcast:

In June Google brought out a white paper, ‘Settling the (Quality) Score’. This reignited the old PPC argument about whether to optimise specifically for QS. Larry Kim felt Google weren’t telling the whole story.

Website Call Conversions came in August for the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. This means rather than putting your number on your website, you use a Google forwarding number: then if someone clicks an ad and then calls you, it counts as a conversion.

Google did another live webcast on the 10th of December, mostly recapping the announcements of the year. But it did have something new: the release of AdWords Editor 11.0: now you can have multiple views of the same account, or view multiple accounts at once (and drag and drop between them!). As Kirk Williams points out, CTRL-Z now actually undoes the last action (rather than reverting whatever you have selected). But there’s still no support for labels or shopping campaigns. Also CTR is shown wrongly, although hopefully that will be fixed quickly…


Search Network

Consumer Ratings Annotations were announced in March, but only for the US, UK and Canada and later Australia. This is an extension that shows ratings based on Google Consumer Surveys.

Dynamic Sitelinks were announced in July. These are like sitelinks, except they’re made automatically – you have to opt out rather than set them up. If you have set up your own sitelinks, the manual ones should show rather than the dynamic ones.

‘Close variant’ matching has been around for two years, but previously you could turn it off at campaign level. In September you couldn’t turn it off – all exact and phrase match keywords will show ads on searches which are similar. This is one of the bigger changes in the year – now you need to worry about negative keywords even in exact match only ad groups.

Another major event in September was the launch of Callout Extensions. Like sitelinks without the links, callouts give you extra characters to show off your selling points. (Note you need to make at least two for them to work.)

Ad Customizers also came in September: you enter a CSV full of attributes and Google spits out ads that use them. This means you can create ads at scale, and that you can update details without creating entirely new ads. So you can expect everyone and their dog to be making countdown ads.

Since October, mobile ads may skip the second description line in favour of showing ad extensions. This means you’ll just see the first line with an ellipsis – you should write your mobile ads so they make sense in this format!


Display Network

+Post ads became available to all in April: If your Google+ page has at least 1,000 followers you can turn any publically shared post into an engagement ad on the Display network.

In September campaigns that were showing on both the Search and Display networks were automatically changed to ‘Search and Display Select’ campaigns. This means AdWords is more selective on which Display sites your ads appear on. Note that it still isn’t best practise to combine Search and Display in one campaign, and if you have a ‘Search and Display Select’ campaign you won’t be able to use features like demographic targeting.

Estimated cross-device conversions are now available for display campaigns: this gives an estimate of the conversions made on one device after clicking an ad on another device, based on people logged into Google accounts on multiple devices.

Dynamic remarketing was available for retailers, but rolled out to all verticals in October. This lets you show remarketing ads related to the specific pages visited (using an item feed rather than having to set up lots of audiences manually).

Custom Affinity Audiences came in October: this means you can target people on the Display Network by listing keywords they are interested in, or listing URLs of sites featuring subjects they find interesting. On the flip side, this means ‘other interests’ targeting is being taken away in January.


Shopping Ads

Google Shopping

The main change was the upgrade of all Google PLA (Product Listing Ads) campaigns into Google Shopping campaigns in August. Previously PLA ad groups were based on attributes or labels from the data feed, limiting users who couldn’t set up unique labels, and data feed was in the Google Merchant Centre rather than AdWords itself. In Google Shopping campaigns, ad groups are based on product groups, which are set up in AdWords by specifying combinations of product attributes. There is also better reporting by product attributes and impression share data.

Other changes:



The biggest change was the new campaign structure in March – previously there were just campaigns containing ads, but now there are campaigns containing ad sets containing ads. Then in September things were changed again – targeting and bidding, previously at ad level, are now at ad set level. Note that unlike AdWords and Bing, budgets are at ad set level rather than campaign level.

In April changes to the right hand column ads were announced: rather than a square image, there is now a 254 by 133 pixel rectangle (the same aspect ratio as News Feed ad images). This gives a bit of extra space, and is “more visually consistent” with News Feed ads.

Facebook’s Audience Network was announced in April and made available worldwide in October. This lets your ads be shown on mobile apps outside of Facebook, but still using the same targeting as you would for advertising within Facebook.

In November Facebook deployed its ‘Edgerank’ algorithmic update. Early observations highlight a drop in reach for Organic and drop in Likes for Organic and Paid.

The main reasons for this are:

  1. Organically, thousands and thousands of posts are posted by companies everyday to their followers, now as more followers like and follow more and more companies it became impossible for Facebook to show posts to users that it felt would drive engagement. Driving the need for an algorithm update.
  2. In both paid & organic, we have for a long-time been faced with ‘click farms’. These are offices based mainly in India and Egypt who sit all day ‘liking’ ads and pages in order to get paid roughly $1 per 100 likes. This is the primary reason we do not recommend ‘like’ campaigns as the ‘real’ return on these ‘likes’ is effectively non-existent. Click farms hid themselves from Facebook’s eye for a while by hitting ‘like’ on an organic post once in a while. But the new algorithm update has targeted click farms by using their own Facebook presence. You would typically see that offending pages ‘like’ thousands of other pages but never post anything themselves. The algorithm update was designed to target and shutdown these pages, in essence wiping out the click farms.

So, the question that we have been asked by our clients is “how do I regain my reach?”

Well, to put it simply (and in-line with Facebook’ algo update):

  1. Post better content
  2. Buy ads

By better content the following should be used as a daily guideline:

  • 2 text updates (either asking a question or fill-in-the-blank)
  • 1 photo (lighthearted to make people laugh, share & comment)
  • 3 blog posts (1 newly published post, if possible, and 2 evergreen posts — which are older posts that are still valuable & relevant)


Bing Ads

There have been numerous changes to the web interface and Bing Ads Editor (although still no Mac version).

In January sitelinks came out in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia.

In March Bing announced ‘universal event tracking’: you put the same code up on all pages of your site, then define goals or remarketing audiences within Bing’s interface (like you do with Google Analytics).

A great time saver for those of us using Google Analytics: auto-tagging came out in June. This can be set to replace all tags or just to add missing ones (making it compatible if you have custom or non-GA tagging in place).

In July, Bing Ads online insertion orders were made easier – you can create and manage your orders yourself, online.

Bing Ads Express was discontinued in July – it had been created (like AdWords Express) to be a simpler alternative to Bing Ads, but Bing have decided instead to concentrate on better campaign management tools and reporting rather than have a separate product.

In August Bing Ads followed Google’s enhanced campaigns; tablets and desktops cannot be targeted separately. Unlike Google you can still have a bid adjustment for tablets, but it can only reduce bids by 20% (also unlike Google, you can still choose to only target mobile).

As of September, you can schedule ad bids down to every 15 minutes. (To compare, in AdWords you can only schedule by the hour.) There were also improvements to location targeting, and the option to target people solely by the location they are searching for (rather than people searching for or located in the location).

Also in September you could share negative keyword lists between campaigns (and unlike AdWords, the feature was included in Bing Ads Editor from launch), and dynamic sitelinks were announced.

Copying Google, Bing Ads also have close variants, but only in the US (since September), UK and Ireland (in December) – and you can still opt-out using the campaign advanced settings. Note that Bing Ads has always had keyword normalisation, which already meant its exact match wasn’t precisely exact.

In the US only:


What’s Next for 2015?

In some ways 2014 was a continuation of 2013 for AdWords and Bing; Google gives us extra features, but takes away a bit more of our control (in 2013 it was tablet targeting; in 2014 exact match keywords). Bing continues to follow Google, although it has its own spin on some of the features – bids can be modified for tablets, ad schedules are more precise, and AdWords does not have an equivalent of universal event tracking.

From an advertiser’s point of view the biggest change was Facebook’s ad sets, but that’s a change that’s entirely invisible to Facebook users (unlike the changes to the right hand column). Hopefully better account structure will lead to better ads in the long run, as management and testing become simpler.

What did you think was the biggest change in 2014? And what do you think will happen in 2015? Let us know in the comments below.

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