On Wednesday, in an official AdWords blog post, Google announced that they were going to revolutionise and utterly shake up paid search campaigns run through their AdWords system. Several years ago, Google made it possible to target desktop PCs, high end mobiles and tablets individually. As a best practice, Google advised advertisers to set up a campaign per device, effectively replicating each and every campaign per device. A long while later, Bing and Yahoo also released the same device targeting capabilities within their paid search platform, as always, forever playing catch up with Google. Now Google have thrown out the rule book by launching enhanced campaigns. These remove the ability to target one device per campaign, in fact, by default all new campaigns will be opted into all three devices. Read more about how this works here.
Why Enhanced Campaigns?
This launch comes soon after Google’s quarterly revenue announcement where it was stated that CPCs are down year on year, largely due to more traffic coming from mobile devices where advertisers have long experienced lower CPCs due to fewer competitors. At the time,Larry Page, chief exec, stated, “In today’s multi-screen world we face tremendous opportunities” (Source: BBC), it is clear now that he was signalling this move in their main advertising platform.
By making multi-device coverage compulsory, Google is firstly increasing their revenue from the number of ads live and, secondly, unnaturally forcing an increase in competitors on tablet and mobile devices such that CPCs increase.
In terms of Google’s aim to always create a good user journey, Google are responding to the blurring of device use. There is no longer, for much of the multiple device-owning market, clear delineation between the roles of desktop, mobile and tablet. All have more or less the same capabilities – something which Google itself has striven towards with its search platform. As such users may begin an online journey on one device, continue on a second and convert on a third, indiscriminately multi-screening. In fact, in Google’s official blog post about enhanced campaigns, they quoted a recent study they carried out with Ipsos which found 90% of multi-device users move sequentially between devices to complete a task. By forcing advertisers across all three devices, Google is making it clear that search is search regardless of the device where a search is conducted. Google want the same advertisers present in all three marketplaces so that a user can find the same ad repeatedly across their screens. This is beneficial for advertisers, being present when a user searches is key to PPC. Google will also release a cross-device attribution system based on their logged in data, to help advertisers understand what the funnel process is across devices for their visitors,
Loss of control
For advertisers who followed best practice and split out device campaigns separately, this change affects granularity of control. Modifiers can be added to the new enhanced campaigns for mobile bids, mobile ad copy, mobile location and day part targeting and mobile site links. However, none of this can be specified for tablets any longer as tablets will be perpetually grouped in with desktop devices – whatever is set up for desktops will run for tablets too.
Advertisers who had not split out campaigns per device but targeted all devices in one campaign will see greater control. In Google’s extensive documentation on how to implement enhanced campaigns, they state, ‘in legacy campaigns that targeted multiple devices, Google automatically adjusted your bid for mobile devices. This did not give advertisers enough control over bids on mobile devices’. This means that the enhanced campaign mobile bid multiplier passes control of bid adjustment back to these advertisers. In particular, moving away from the one campaign over device model works well for Google’s aim to recruit more SMBs into the Adwords ecosystem, evident from their release of AdWords Express last year. Advertisers afraid of the complexity of the Adwords system now have fewer targeting options and simpler control of the mobile marketplace.
An additional problem is for advertisers who use third party systems to track device conversions. With the one device per campaign set up, advertisers could easily understand the level of conversions from each device. When all grouped into one campaign, this level of detail is unavailable unless Google conversion tagging is used (the option to view AdWords metrics segmented by device will still be available) or from web analytics packages that can track which device a conversion came from. Advertisers historically needed this information to understand how to optimise device targeted campaigns, e,g. Tablet campaign is not driving enough conversions, so change the creative or landing page. With enhanced campaigns, this is not really needed because device level optimization is only available for mobile, not for desktop or tablets. However, advertisers do still need to know how each device is converting as a measure of site performance, e.g. if the conversion funnel needs optimising for performance on tablets or mobiles. Without this information and without the ability to optimise for desktop and tablet separately, advertisers face cannot influence coverage on each device as much.
Some advertisers may not have a mobile or tablet friendly site and being forced to appear on these devices could be detrimental to performance metrics. Will this turn people off from AdWords? I think not, Google is too large a presence to ignore, so advertisers will need to adapt. Google is prompting advertisers to get their mobile sites in order – it’s a good kick up the butt. In cases where advertisers have mobile sites but these sit under a unique URL, since mobile keywords are not different from desktop/tablet keywords in new enhanced campaigns, the different destination URL needs to be set up at ad level (for ads that are ‘mobile preferred’), which could be detrimental to ad groups where keyword specific destination URLs are used.
Google have also stated that enhanced campaign quality score will be calculated separately for each device but displayed as an average across all three devices. Aside from landing page relevance, mobile Adwords quality score takes into account the mobile friendliness of pages so advertisers who previously did not target mobile/tablets and do not have mobile/tablet friendly sites, will be forced to appear on these devices and suffer lower quality score. This also plays to Google’s aim of increasing CPCs on these devices.
One loss that perhaps need not be overly lamented by advertisers is that of Operating System targeting. The advanced mobile targeting settings in AdWords included operating systems like Android vs iOS, individual handsets, networks and WiFi. This had great applications for sites selling device-specific items such as accessories, or network specific offers like Orange Wednesdays, or sites wanting to find users at home and therefore used WiFi targeting as a proxy. All in all, these targeting options provided low volumes and almost too many targeting options that overcomplicated Adwords. The list would have had to keep on growing as more handsets and operating systems came into the ever-growing market. Google has therefore removed this functionality (still available for GDN and AdMob) and search network advertisers can no longer target this granularly. For advertisers with mobile specific KPIs, this could lead to significant wastage and a signal to move to in-app formats which Google provides via AdMob.
By removing the various granular mobile and tablet targeting options, Google has decided to take matters into their own hands. The AdWords system now defines what is mobile and what is a tablet. Before enhanced campaigns, advertisers could choose to target a Samsung Galaxy Note 2 as part of their tablet strategy by selecting the handset in advanced options. Now, Google designates the Note 2 as a mobile device.
Secondly, much of Google’s material about enhanced campaigns focusses on the benefit that advertisers must now think about the context of their user rather than the device (as devices are so portable to be used anywhere). To me this means that Google is also redefining mobile as not just mobile phones but any device being used by someone who is mobile, that is, by the context. This must be a feature of the Google algorithm: deciding a user is on-the-go and thereby should see a mobile preferred ad from an Adwords campaign. This is highly likely as natural results must have long taken this into account, displaying location results more readily than those on desktops. Furthermore, Google’s enhanced search documentation states that any ads that contain a telephone number within the text will be disapproved because all phone numbers must be set up as call extensions so that Google can judge how to display call extensions (as a clickable hyperlink number for on the go or as a non-clickable number to be noted down). It seems that Google will base the judgement on location and use of services like WiFi and 3G as a gauge of what the users context might be. Google has so many pieces of data, and especially for logged in users, the advertising giant can probably asses where that user is, which device they are on and thereby whether they are on the move or at home/work. If this is the case, then Google is looking to invest more readily not just in the tablet and mobile marketplaces but, more profoundly, looking to create a static vs mobile marketplace.
Google seem to be leaping ahead with this announcement, future proofing their platform and setting a precedent for static vs moving marketplaces in the digital arena. One piece of the puzzle which has not been considered is that there are different activities carried out on each device, so some people may prefer to complete a purchase on a desktop, or research on a tablet. Advertisers who may not want to target research phases of the purchase funnel which they believe are carried out on mobile and tablets will now have to at least have presence on tablets due to the default enhanced campaign set up. Google, by giving tablet and desktop devices complete parity, are making a big assumption about device use and the consumer market is probably not quite at the stage where tablets are used in exactly the same way as desktops. In this respect, enhanced campaigns may be a year or two early.