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PPC in 2015: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

It was a year of big changes in the world of digital paid media, some good, some bad, and some downright ugly.

With a fresh year spread out before us it’s always worth reflecting back on those changes to discover how we can improve and optimise paid advertising on the road ahead. So with that in mind, we caught up with the Ambergreen Paid Media team to find out what they thought were the most important changes of PPC in 2015.


AdWords for Video

Google video ads finally migrated into the main AdWords UI, solving the major headache of needing to flip back and forth between the different interfaces. Coupled with this update is the enhanced ability to filter all campaigns by type so search, display or video can be viewed and analysed faster. It may seem like a minor update, but being able to see little details like total AdWords spend and conversion counts at-a-glance just makes life a lot easier, especially on well-organised accounts.

Google introduces Smart Goals

With Smart Goals, Google analyses the top 5% of traffic from your AdWords account to your site and uses this as a threshold to set “smart goals” for your account.

Success metrics are based on Session duration, Pages per session, Location, Device and Browser. After a visitor meets this custom formula they are counted as a conversion.

Although some articles talk about using smart goals as a replacement for your other on-page conversions, they should never be used as a substitute. Instead, they can be used as an additional goal to optimise towards which may improve the overall conversion rate of your main site goals, be it enquiries, newsletter sign-ups, or something else.

Of course, we have always had the ability to create custom segments of traffic and optimise accordingly, but Smart Goals automate a lot of the legwork.

Structured Snippet ExtensionsCallouts vs Structured Snippets

Structured snippet extensions were released and these enable advertisers to push out even more text about their offerings. Similar to callouts, these messages highlight key features or services but in a more structured way. Eye-catching and helping to differentiate your offering, structured snippets are a quick and easy win for the time-crunched PPC manager.

Google has also introduced new automatic variants around key events such as Black Friday to make management much easier (no staying up until midnight to switch off a campaign), so keep your eyes peeled for further opportunities to keep your messages current.

A busy year for Bing

Universal Event Tracking, image extensions, native ads (currently US only), RLSAs, shopping ads… It has been a busy and exciting year for Bing, it seems that the “ugly guy” of the search engines is becoming more attractive.

There are even some features that aren’t yet available in Google AdWords (e.g. image extensions, bid modifiers for demographic data in Search). Combine these with strong partnerships (e.g. Yahoo) and we could be Binging a lot more frequently in the coming years.

Instagram Ads move to Facebook Power Editor

Paid social is on the rise, most recently with the ability to develop Instagram ads from within Facebook’s Power Editor, thereby empowering advertisers with all of the robust targeting features of Facebook with the extended reach offered by Instagram.

Search Retargeting becomes easier

Although there are a few limitations – like demographic data use restriction in order to ensure privacy protection – the use of Analytics lists saves you time (one less code snippet to install on your website!). More importantly, it expands the reach of your Retargeting List for Search Ads (RLSA) campaigns to a whole new batch of users already familiar with your brand. Previous visitors are the most likely candidates to buy from you when they see your ad searching for relevant terms, so RSLA campaigns are an important advertising tactic. Really Like to See you Again!


AdWords’ new report editor

AdWords released a new report editor to a lot of fanfare and general acclaim. The thing is, it’s not really all it’s cracked up to be. Ultimately it hasn’t been adopted very widely as many advertisers still prefer the reporting tools that they know and feel comfortable with. While some of the data visualisations of the new reporting editor are nice, it’s hardly revolutionary.AdWords Report Editor

LinkedIn’s Lead Accelerator

Lead accelerator from LinkedIn has been released and looks very appealing. The remarketing function is a particular draw and all in all it seems like a great way to grow B2B clients. However, it requires a really big investment and commitment, meaning the barrier to entry is too high for many businesses who would like to try it out.

Openness of Platforms & Providers

There’s nothing new here but it’s still disappointing the amount of key insights and data some third party providers on some channels (programmatic, retargeting…) are willing to share both during and after campaigns have finished.

Perhaps we’ve just been spoilt by Google being open with placements, conversion types, and so on, but we’re always hesitant to invest clients’ budgets without a full understanding of where the budget has been invested and how performance was impacted over the course of the campaign.

We always invest our clients’ budgets as if they are our own, so the unwillingness of some platforms to share key data is disappointing and can rule out some activity if the required leap of faith is larger than the benefits.

We should stress this is not all channels and not all providers, but it’s extremely frustrating when some don’t share key data which may help make business cases for investment.


Call-only Campaignsgoogle adwords call-only campaigns

Call-only campaigns were released in 2015, replacing all other calls to action with a click-to-call button.

While these might have some practical application for companies that live and die on the basis of incoming phone calls (such as local businesses), they’re just not that relevant to our clients.

In fact, any business that requires customers to peruse their websites and perform more sophisticated types of online research and conversions (filling in forms, etc.) will find call-only campaigns a bigger hindrance than help.

Apps for Bing Ads and AdWords

First AdWords came out with an app in March to monitor campaigns and do some light management, which Google made only available on Android devices. Then, Bing Ads launched its own app in April to do similar levels of management, available only on…you guessed it, iOS devices.

So, while it’s nice to be able to check in on both your AdWords and Bing accounts on the move, switching between two different phones is just a pain. Both Google and Bing have said that version of their app will be available for the other operating system, but haven’t offered any timelines.

The current apps are also very limited and the normal platform unusable on a phone, meaning we paid media managers always end up carrying a laptop with us when we’re out of the office anyway. For the sake of our backs (and to give us more room in our bags for duty free) it would be great to have more complete apps or at least a functional mobile interface.

Ad Blockingmaxresdefault

It’s hard to talk about paid media without referencing ad blocking or the debate about viewable impressions before that, but unquestionably things are starting to get ugly.

More people are using ad-blocking technology which restricts the reach of some campaigns, and although some publishers are fighting back by either blocking content or asking for user data in return, it would be great if everyone could just get along!

By all means restrict poor quality, annoying ads that ruin user experience but let engaging, well thought out campaigns through. Not only does it keep the internet running (why would brands invest so much in digital and content if its reach is restricted?) but campaigns can inform, entertain and inspire users if executed correctly.

Without this investment the internet could be abandoned to graveyard of cat videos and people falling over, meaning Iron Mike will never live down his Christmas 2015 present.


What will 2016 hold for PPC? Check out our Epic Digital Marketing Predictions now.

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