If you’ve been around for awhile, you’ve probably learned that nothing at Google stays the same for long. Their online ad platform is no exception. The digital giant is no stranger to rolling out updates with very little explanation to accompany them.
If you received Google’s ad rotation update on August 29th, there are some things you should know (that Google didn’t tell you) about how the update will actually affect your company’s digital ads, ranging from budget and performance.
Coming in September: “Machine learning”
Google announced it will be utilising “machine learning” to improve the quality of its advertising algorithms, making them as accurate as possible. But what the heck is “machine learning?” It’s essentially the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to automate data through algorithms without having to be “told” where to look for it.
While there is no doubt about this method having powerful implications, it also has its shortcomings — it simply hasn’t been around long enough to be perfect (yet). One such blunder? Google penalised ads containing the acronym for horsepower (hp), confusing them for a trademark breach of the well-known Hewlett Packard (HP).
So, while the use of machine learning has yet to be perfected, it’s still worth keeping an eye on how it’s affecting the success of your AdWords campaigns — because, as we know, Google is always looking for more ways to make profits themselves.
Breaking down Google’s letter
What did Google actually say in its August notification? They gave AdWords users two options to choose from when displaying ads: optimise and rotate indefinitely. While optimise means using the machine learning method discussed above to create ads with a predicted higher success rate than the rest in that same ad group, rotate indefinitely means your ads will be displayed in a more even manner indefinitely.
But in typical Google fashion, we are left with more than one question from this information. When it comes to “optimising,” they don’t tell us what is being optimised: are they optimising the click-through-rate? Conversion rate? Return on investment? The cost of the ad itself? Or simply the number of ad clicks? We simply don’t know. Each of these factors has varying effects on your ad’s position, success rate and ROI.
What does Google actually mean by this vague explanation? We called them to ask. Their answer? The element being optimised differs from the Google Search Network (text ads on google’s SERP) and the Google Display Network (photo ads seen across the web). The only thing being optimised in Google’s Search Network is clicks, which is disappointing to say the least — in the Display Network, however, conversions are being optimised.
When you think about the Search Network implications, this doesn’t seem to add up. Google’s search ads have a reputation for bringing more leads than display ads, whereas the trap of optimising only for clicks is that your site will get more traffic with no increase in conversions (only in costs for the clicks).
But we’re interested in the focus of conversion optimisation for the Display Network — because, simply put, current display ads typically don’t have very high conversion rates. Their value derives from increasing a strong brand awareness, but at the expense of higher click-through fees and low conversions to show for it. We’re excited to see if this change brings about a more money-making Display Network that brings more conversions, but judging from Google’s past promises, we’re not overly optimistic.
Brace for impact: What your company can (and should) do
Before you begin to push the office panic button and turn on the overhead sprinklers, take a deep breath — all of your hard work will not be damaged, especially if you’ve already spent the time and effort building up a strong AdWords campaign to begin with. To ensure your ads continue to do as well as in the past, there are three questions to ask yourself:
Am I taking advantage of AdWords’ bidding features?
They may seem complicated and not worth your time, but this couldn’t be further from the truth — you should be utilising all Google has to offer when it comes to enhanced bidding functionality. This will be even more true than ever once the machine learning algorithms start coming into effect, as they pull data from such bidding features. Whether it’s the conversion maximiser, the target return on ad spend (ROAS), the optimised cost per click (CPC) or target cost per acquisition (CPA), they should be used, starting now.
Is there a real, live, breathing person checking my account?
Who is in charge of your AdWords account? Is there a dedicated person reviewing your campaigns to ensure they’re fully optimised? You need somebody who knows how to manually check your ads to determine which are doing great (enhance these!) and which aren’t (consider pausing these). Further, this person should have the ability to test out new ads, trying out different words, offers and phrases, all while tracking their performance. They should also be sure to continue running the ads that are doing the best, as these are your bread winners that you don’t want to go without.
How often is this person doing so?
When it comes to maintaining a good account, vigilance is key. Checking it once a month isn’t enough; it needs to be checked thoroughly and often to have the highest chance of success. You must be aware of potential internal issues negatively impacting your campaigns, which can be hard to catch from afar. You must also keep an eye on external events happening in the world that could have a big impact — for instance, I doubt many people were clicking on shoe ads during the night of the presidential election. It’s things like this you must stay constantly on top of, and this requires consistent effort.
We’ve all survived Google’s changes and updates in the past, and this won’t change in the future. But despite Google’s calming words implying that no action needs to be taken right now, it’s worth taking the time to ensure your campaigns are prepared for what’s to come. Is your PPC agency doing all they can to proactively and strategically plan for these changes? They should be. Agencies like Techwood Consulting have already begun aligning their clients’ strategies to ensure these new changes only bring benefits instead of harm, and your agency should be doing the same. Because when it comes to the unpredictable world of Google, you can never be too ready.
Chad Crowe, implementation and account management operations, Techwood Consulting
Image Credit: Asif Islam / Shutterstock