2016: The year in paid search (A year of massive change!)

This year will be seen as a watershed moment for mobile, with nearly every change reflecting mobile’s now-dominant contribution to search.

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Lets take a breather and look back on all of the changes in PPC that came flying at us in 2016.

Major, major changes this year

There are always changes in paid seraches, but 2016 were not your garden vairety. There were fundaments updates then wiill continue in the year ahead.Some report showing mobile now accounts for 60% searches in the world.Desktop results were changed to reflect mobile. Google upped its PR finesse in 2016. It announced advertisers would have to rewrite all of their ads at the same time that it announced device bidding is coming back

Shopping & retail

With Amazon being Amazon, and Facebook’s Dynamic Product Ads, and even Pinterest’s Promoted Pins, gaining adoption, Google is under pressure to squeeze everything it can from product search and its product listing ads. And squeeze it did this year. Carousels of product listing ads (PLAs) are now showing up in Google Image Search, YouTube and third-party retailer sites.

Google also opened Shopping campaigns up to Customer Match, allowing advertisers to retarget customers with product listing ads with bids tailored to those audiences or excluding those audiences from Shopping campaigns.
Another big change for sellers was Google’s announcement that retailers and brands must have at least 150 ratings in the past 12 months for seller ratings to appear in their ads. That was up from just 30.
Also, for manufacturers, it’s worth pointing out that Manufacturer Center is still alive. Introduced last year, but flying far under the radar, Google’s Manufacturer Center is where brands and original manufacturers can provide a primary source for their product data used in Google Shopping. Manufacturers that use it can get some pretty nifty insights into how their products perform across Google in the analytics dashboard, such as clicks made on their products versus competing products. This year, Google reduced the amount of data it’s requesting in Manufacturer Center, apparently because most weren’t providing complete information anyway.

Local and Maps

Local got a shake up this year with the introduction of ads in the local pack, Promoted Places pins in Maps, exposure for local inventory ads in Maps and Knowledge panels, developments in store visits metrics, and pulling Google Maps out of the Search Partners network.

Ads started showing up in the Local Finder, the listings that appear next to the Map after a user clicks on “More places” from the search results, in April, around the same time Maps was moved into general search ad inventory. Later that month, Google started testing a purple “Ad” label on Local Finder ads and a corresponding purple pin on the map on Android and desktop. That didn’t last in the local finder, but the purple labels and pins did roll out in Google Maps.

And the big development in Maps, Promoted Places, has been in testing for a good part of the year. Retailers such as Walgreens, MAC Cosmetics and Starbucks have been testing the ads on Android that feature the brand logo in the pin and can include promotions.

Though still limited to a handful of metro markets in California, another area to keep an eye on in the local space is Google’s Home Services Ads program. This year, HSA opened up to HVAC services and electricians, and the whole program finally rolled out to mobile.

Google’s efforts to connect online campaigns with offline impact continued in 2016. Its store transactions measurement is still in beta, and there weren’t really any announcements around that this year, but Store Visits continued to gain traction in AdWords. Google announced it had measured more than one billion store visits from AdWords in 11 countries as of May (it’s now available in 14 countries). Store Visits also expanded to Display Network campaigns. Finally, Store Visits data became available in distance and location reports in Adwords. (The distance report is an unsung resource for advertisers with physical locations).

Audience targeting

Google has been steadily shifting from a focus on intent targeting to audience + intent targeting, thanks to market pressure from social networks Facebook. 2015’s Customer Match was the first big step in this area.

Big news in audience targeting is demographic targeting — age and gender — rolling out, and the ability to target similar audiences in search coming out in beta.

This fall, Google announced it would at last start to support cross-device retargeting. Google’s head of search ads, Jerry Dischler, made several announcements on audience targeting for search at SMX East in October: Cross-device retargeting was extended to Retargeting Lists for Search ads (RSLA), demographic targeting for age and gender in search ads was rolling out of beta, and similar audiences for search is now in open beta. These all add up to big possibilities for refining the way we execute search campaigs in 2017 and beyond.

Analytics & reporting

This year, Google unveiled the Analytics 360 Suite in May. The a la carte premium suite includes the rebranded versions of Google Analytics Premium, tag manager and Adometry attribution tools, as well as a new data management platform, a testing and optimization tool and a reporting and data visualization service. The nice thing is, the freeloaders got gifts, too. A free version of the reporting and visualization platform, Google Data Studio, rolled out early this summer. This fall, a free version of Google Optimize for landing page testing and optimization went into beta (sign up here).

Ad extensions

A quick rundown of what happened in extension land this year:

Bing launched a Social Extensions test in March that seems to have faded away.
Sitelinks started showing up in swipeable carousels. The new Price extensions started off as a list and then shifted to swipeable carousels.
Affiliate extensions didn’t get much fanfare when they rolled out, but I’m hoping to see some case studies on how these are working for manufacturers in 2017.
Message extensions came out of beta. There is a lot of promise in this extension, and it will be interesting to see the kind of support Message extensions receive next year.
A Visual Sitelinks test started running in late fall. On mobile, each sitelinks displays with an image in a swipeable carousel card. (No, it’s not just you, the swipeable card carousel showed up all over the place this year.) I’m not so sure about these, but we’ll see.
The Promotions extension beta launched ahead of Black Friday. From what I’ve heard so far, this also holds lots of promise.

Honorable Mentions, in no order particular order

Google added native inventory to the Display Network and introduced a responsive ad format to fill it. The responsive ads can run across the GDN, including in the newly available native ad inventory. Advertisers can convert text ads to responsive ads in Editor now. It looks like more may be in store for responsive ads soon.

Conversions became the king of measurement in AdWords, as Converted Clicks went off to into the sunset this fall.

Salesforce users can now import their lead data right into AdWords.

A whole bunch of weird stuff happened in AdWords Keyword Planner, presumably thanks to bots. And Google added forecasting and trend data for those with active AdWords campaigns.

Google banned payday loan ads, kinda sorta.

Here’s something I was excited about when it was first announced, but have yet to do anything with and am jealous of those who have: AdWords Campaign Groups.

Google started shutting down its Compare products in the US and UK early in the year — a big deal to the industries affected (credit cards, auto insurance, mortgages and travel insurance).

Google updated automated bidding in AdWords and introduced Portfolio bid strategies to make it possible to set distinct CPA targets at the ad group level.

In the US, those giant car ads, Model Automotive Ads (just rolls off the tongue), came out of beta on mobile, along with nearby dealer ads.

Christmas came early for Mac users with the release of Bing Ads Editor in June.

And that’s a wrap on 2016. Expect to see the trends we say this year — audiences; attribution, including online-to-offline; mobile; and automation — continuing to influence change in the year ahead.

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