Google Performance Summit recap: search ads, search ads everywhere

Stephen Kenwright, director of search at Branded3, rounds up the big developments in SEO, PPC and display to help you plan your search strategy.

Attendees at Google Performance Summit (the search engine’s annual event for customers of its AdWords and Analytics platforms) were party to a few surprises last week – although arguably nothing that many won’t have seen coming (or at least made perfect sense in hindsight).

The most significant change for most AdWords users covered device-level bidding, giving advertisers much more freedom on the bids they set on mobile devices. Advertisers will soon be able to set individual bid adjustments for desktop, mobile and tablet; a big deal particularly on tablets, which have previously been slimmed down desktop searches.

In a blog post announcing the change to those who weren’t present or tuned into the live stream of the event, senior vice president of Ads and Ecommerce Sridhar Ramaswamy said:

“[The change] lets you anchor your base keyword bid to the device most valuable to your business and then set bid adjustments for each of the other devices. You will also have a wider range to adjust bids, up to +900 per cent”.

There is a surprising number of brands in the UK who haven’t yet embraced mobile bidding; historic tests have not always been successful and as a result some advertisers haven’t attempted to keep up with the changing landscape.

The good news is that using the new modifiers should be relatively straightforward: “With more controls, you can now optimize with greater precision while keeping things simple with a single campaign that reaches consumers across devices,” says Ramaswamy.

Mobile ad spend is forecast to overtake desktop in 2016 so it made no sense for desktop to be in the driving seat for every brand anymore. The announcement at Performance Summit just makes eMarketer’s forecast that mobile advertising spend will almost triple desktop spend by 2020 even more likely.

More than half of Google searches may be performed on mobile devices, but we learned at the Summit that more than a third of mobile searches have local intent – and local is growing 50 per cent faster than the rest of mobile search. Google clearly wants to help advertisers (to help Google) capitalise on this trend too.

Almost exactly a month ago we started to see paid ads displayed inside Google’s Local Finder – the next logical step is to show ads inside Maps itself, which is exactly what we got last week.

“We’re investing in more branded, customized experiences for businesses on Google Maps – geared towards helping you increase store visits,” says Ramaswamy. “For example, Maps users may start to see promoted pins for nearby coffee shops, gas stations or lunch spots along their driving route.”

I don’t know how many people are replacing their sat nav systems with Google Maps but it does seem like showing pins in navigation mode puts Google another step closer to its goal of showing search ads literally everywhere.

This isn’t the first time ads have been displayed in Maps (or in local results generally), with paid listings in Google Maps appearing as far back as 2010, but the search engine is clearly getting more comfortable with people using apps instead of browsers to navigate the internet and is capitalising on all of its properties.

Most immediate for most AdWords customers is the rollout of expanded text ads (which have been in testing for a while). This means that advertisers will soon be able to include a lot more text in their search ads; more headlines and more copy, but more consistent URLs across ads. Again this appears to be an effort to be more optimised for smartphone browsers, but certainly gives advertisers a lot more flexibility in their messaging – and a lot more room to be creative.

Stephen Kenwright is director of search at Branded3. You can follow him on Twitter at @stekenwright.

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