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How paid search is evolving: 4 trends to look out for

By Rebecca Wilkes |



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April 28, 2022 | 6 min read

Paid search is arguably the most knowledge-rich, mature digital marketing channel. It also moves fast, and can be hard for non-experts to keep track of. For The Drum’s Deep Dive into Digital Advertising, Rebecca Wilkes of performance marketing agency Summit Media looks into four trends for the year ahead and what marketers can do about them.

Summit Media on how brands and marketers can get ahead before the changes to third party cookies.

Summit Media on how brands and marketers can get ahead before the changes to third-party cookies

Paid search is the most mature digital marketing channel. It started back in 1996, with Google AdWords launching in 2000. Since then, we’ve seen the launch of many key initiatives such as product listing ads, seller ratings and expanded text ads.

Right now, paid search is also arguably digital’s most evolving channel. Here are four evolutions to look out for.

1. Changes to responsive search ads as Google focuses on automation

In August 2021, Google announced that automation should be a key focus for marketers, and from June 30 2022 responsive search ads (RSAs) will be the only search ad type that can be created or edited within standard search campaigns. Expanded text ads (ETAs) will no longer be an option for marketers.

RSAs allow marketers to enter multiple headlines and descriptions for ads. Google then uses machine learning (ML) to automatically test different combinations to find the highest-performing ad.

There should be two clear benefits for advertisers using RSAs v ETAs. First, increased engagement from customers due to improved click-through rates; and, second, lower costs due to improved ad copy.

From our testing (albeit at limited volumes), we’ve seen higher click-through rates and lower cost-per-click. You should prepare yourself by ensuring RSAs are in every ad group, and review performance of these ads to ensure they’re of the highest quality in line with Google’s scoring.

2. The start of keyword-less world: Performance Max

After its introduction in November 2021, Google announced that Performance Max will replace Smart Shopping and local campaigns by the end of Q3 2022.

Rather than the usual keyword-based search campaign, Performance Max uses your creative assets alongside business goals and automated bidding, with user signals and data-driven attribution to tailor ads to potential customers across the Google ecosystem (search, display, YouTube, Gmail and Discovery). This goal-based format helps marketers target customers at the right stage of their purchase journey, depending on the goal of the campaign.

Performance Max campaigns will be built from any existing smart shopping and local campaigns. Existing settings will remain, but will be automatically upgraded from July onward. So it’s important to start testing and learning now.

We recommend you create new campaigns and pause any relevant activity (such as Smart Shopping), then start working through the new additional creative assets available. Make sure you’re clear with measures of success – GA4 provides the most detail on performance.

3. The re-introduction of broad match (but not as we know it)

Since 2014, Google has been changing keyword match rules. This always brings unpredictability around budget and performance.

Before, broad match meant that if the search query was contextually similar to the keyword being targeted, your ad could show. This has now had a much-needed overhaul to ensure marketers remain in control of budgets. Modern search is an evolution of broad match and focuses on the meaning of your keyword and the intent behind it; this can include searches that don’t contain the original keyword terms.

Google’s BERT algorithm technology helps interpret queries, language and search intent. It uses this understanding to make keyword matching behavior more closely aligned. That makes broad matches more relevant.

We’ve seen great results from testing, with incremental traffic and revenue. You should ensure you’re live with automated bidding, as the new broad match needs this to work effectively. Choose campaigns to switch to broad match and run a test (you could start by testing any previous broad match modifier keywords).

Test this on stable campaigns, using robust testing methodologies (such as Google’s built-in testing functions).

4. The removal of third-party cookies and the influence of audience

For years, brands have used cookies to help them target ads to the right audiences. With the removal of third-party cookies, Google is now focusing on the intent of people’s searches rather than audiences, capturing people on the likelihood that they will meet a campaign’s objectives.

Measurement and optimization will be impacted. Review your platform’s initiatives to mitigate this. Understand whether they align with business goals and objectives.

Google recently announced that it will be sunsetting Universal Analytics from July 1 2023. Think about the way you’re tracking to be able to capture and measure effectively moving forward, and what the platform you use is doing to enable continued measurement and reporting.

First-party data also becomes important in targeting an engaged audience. Contextual targeting will again rise to the frontier for display/programmatic activity.

So make sure you’re working closely with your provider and review targeting options for future activity and how to capture your target audience.

The loss of third-party cookies and how to combat this should be a key talking point across all brands to make sure you’re not left behind when the change is made.

Read more from The Drum’s latest Deep Dive over at our Digital Advertising hub.

Marketing Digital Advertising Google Ads

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We help brands transform their online business, grow their customer base and make more money from retailing online. In a complex digital marketing world that is ever evolving, our aim is to make the complex simple and transparent, only recommending the best approach and strategy to achieve our clients’ objectives and KPIs.

At Summit, we are more than just an agency; your team of dedicated Summiteers will welcome you into the extended Summit family and spend every penny of your money as though it is our own. We pride ourselves on our retail experience, our business agility, our genuine people and our proprietary technology, combining all of these with our performance marketing expertise to drive measurable value for you.

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