Looking Back: Changes to Google AdWords in 2015

Businessmen Jumping from 2015 to 2016

So it’s that time again — yet another year has passed. Whilst the senior management at Google are busy chalking out new strategies for the year, let’s rewind and take a look at the many changes that were made to AdWords in 2015.

2015 was an exciting year for AdWords – Google rolled out several important features to their online advertising platform, giving advertisers an opportunity to optimise their ads and campaigns even further. Now there are far too many to go through here, but I’ve pulled out some of the most important ones to look at in detail. Skim through the ones you find useful, and take advantage of the enhanced AdWords functionality today.

Gmail Sponsored Promotion (GSP)

GSPs have been available as a beta functionality since the last two years or so, and was finally released to all advertisers in February 2015. It is an ad type that is displayed directly in the inbox of a Gmail user, under the ‘Promotions’ tab. It’s a two-part ad that initially shows as a teaser – it comprises of a 25-character headline, a 100-character body text, a 50×50 sq. px. image slot, and a provision to display your company name. Once clicked, it expands into a full size ad (max. 600 x 1000 sq. px.) consisting of interactive forms, text, images, click to call numbers and/or embedded videos. In principle, clicking on the teaser ad from your Gmail inbox is equivalent to clicking the ad from a Google search result page. Similarly, other AdWords metrics, ie. impressions, cost per click (CPC), etc., are recorded for the GSP ads. However, you are charged only once (for the click on the teaser); if a user clicks the main ad and then goes to your desired landing page, you aren’t charged again.

Real GSP Ad Screenshots

There is a wealth of targeting methods to opt for:

  1. Device: Choose from Desktop only/All/iOS/Android.
  2. Job: Target users based on their job title.
  3. Demographics: Gender & Age
  4. Language: Speaks for itself 😉 (#sorrynotsorry)
  5. Geo Targeting: Based on IP address
  6. Domain: This allows you to target domains that users may have in their inbox. For instance, you may be able to target users who are on a mailing list for a particular brand/company.
  7. Interest: This allows the advertiser to target user by interest group. Keywords in a user’s inbox, for instance, will be mapped to certain interest verticals.
  8. Receipt Targeting: This allows advertisers to track email receipts for purchases. It’s highly useful for negative targeting – the customer is unlikely to click the same ad and make a purchase again!
  9. Keyword: Targeting based on keywords in the 300 most recent emails
  10. Email lists: Upload your own email lists (minimum size 1k) and target users directly.

As you can see, there is tremendous scope here, and as many advertisers aren’t even using the feature yet, the marketplace is relatively uncrowded. So if you haven’t started using GSPs in your advertising campaigns, go ahead and take the plunge in the new year. Engage with your audience in a whole new way!

Customer Match

Customer Match is Google’s first real foray into identity based targeting, something that we all know has been on the cards for the last 12 months or so. Well, now it’s (sort of) here!

Customer Match is a smart way of targeting your customers directly via their email address, thereby effectively engaging a custom audience. The way it functions is similar to that of a remarketing list for search ads (RLSA). Check out this detailed guide to set up Customer Match.

You can upload your first party collected email addresses in the Shared Library > Audiences > +Remarketing List

Customer Match RLSA AdWords Screenshot

Google matches email addresses in the list to users who are signed into their emails (and are running a Google search as well, for instance), and serves those people your campaign ads directly. One benefit is that they don’t just have to be Gmail accounts (unlike GSPs). In order to use Customer Match for your Search campaign, you can layer “lists” into existing campaigns via the Search Campaign > Audiences > +Remarketing. Customer Match can effectively supplement your existing Search, Gmail or YouTube campaigns. This is great if you have got a large amount of customer data linked to email addresses. For instance, if you know who your power buyers are, create the lists and use them for additional targeting. If you can identify customers who bought once but never returned, create a list and exclude them from remarketing instead. Google will also go to the trouble of creating “similar to” audiences to help you reach even more people. Just be aware that any targeting criteria you have set up for the Ad Group you are applying the list to (e.g. Geo or Device) will also be taken into account, and may further negate people from your list. It might be best to layer different targeting methods in one group.

Call-only campaigns

Call-Only Campaigns are a feature that was released in early February of 2015. It coincided nicely with the takeover of mobile search volume over desktop volume – a calculated move by Google, methinks! Call-only campaigns do exactly what they say on the tin. These campaigns target smartphone devices only, and display the ad directly in the SERP just like any other paid ad, but here’s the distinguishing part: They don’t actually “land” on any webpage (in terms of destination URL); clicking on the ad simply places a phone call to the number specified by the advertiser.


Call-only AdWords Campaign Screenshot

So, who would use them? Well anyone who values phone calls over site visits! Maybe you are a small advertiser whose site isn’t extraordinarily appealing (perhaps you don’t have the money to update it, or you haven’t set up a website yet) or maybe you have a killer team who answers your phones and can convert almost any lead as compared to your site that might convert at only 4-5%. If your desktop clicks aren’t worth that much to you, then why pay for them? In fact, some would value phone calls up to three times more than clicks to a site! Call-only ads also allow you to act on leads that could be time-sensitive almost immediately, whereas form leads might take someone hours, days or even weeks to be actioned or followed up, in which time the lead be gone, maybe to one of your competitors. Back to old school sales’ techniques: Just get the leads in via the telephone!

Smart Goals (Powered by Google Analytics)

Smart Goals aren’t exactly an AdWords update, but are powered by Google Analytics. Never mind that though – that’s not why they are significant. Smart Goals are something that you can enable at the ‘View’ level of Analytics. You can measure/analyse dozens of signals from your web visits and determine which ones are most likely to result in a conversion. You can then import these into AdWords and use them to optimise your campaigns. I hear the groans from the PPC alumni already: “giving Google all the say about how we should optimise,” but the same rhetoric was spouted when automatic bid strategies came onto the scene. I wonder how many of you in the PPC world are using them now though. Again this is not really why they are significant – it’s because it was Google’s first serious move into Machine Learning.

‘Machine learning’ is a term you will be hearing a lot in the coming months/years. Smart Goals are, however, in their infancy, a bit like the Smart Lists you can use for remarketing; therefore, expect them to be a bit wishy washy at first. But as time goes by and as Google improve their machine learning algorithms, Smart Goals will get better, I promise! There are a couple of limitations though:

a. They’re non customisable – only one smart goal per view in analytics.
b. They are only available for website views – no mobile app views yet.
c. They don’t support view-through conversions or cross device conversions in AdWords.

Give them a try, and see what results you get from adding them into your optimisation strategy. This Google Analytics Smart Goals installation guide that we spotted on the internet may be useful for the uninitiated.

Final URL

Earlier in 2015, AdWords gave us a new option in terms of destination URLs – ‘Final URLs’ or ‘Upgraded URLs’ as they are otherwise known – were an update to the ‘Destination URL’ field that has been long overdue. What are they then? Well, it means the retirement of the destination URL field and the implementation of the final URL with multiple tracking parameter fields. Previously (for those using custom tracking parameters on their URLs), live ads whose tracking parameters were changed were automatically resent for editorial review.

Final URL AdWords Screenshot

“Not too bad,” I hear you say, “I always adhere to  Google’s editorial policies when it comes to ads.” But wait, that also means that all your historical data for that ad, and metrics including quality scores, are reset. Disaster! All your hard earned click-through rate (CTR) and ad relevancy vanish in thin air! Google have worked around this issue in 2015. You can now specify your destination URL in the ‘Final URL’ field, and you can change the tracking parameters to your heart’s desire. Go ahead and update the tracking that you had been putting off for the fear for losing all previous ad performance data.

Shopping RLSA layering

Another update that was released in late 2015 was the ability to add any of your RLSA into your shopping campaigns, which is yet another targeting enhancement for your shopping campaign. It allows you to bid more or less aggressively to people in your remarketing lists, say, to people who abandoned a cart, or to people who have been on your site within the last 14 days. Like they say, a little persuasion goes a long way, and so it is with online advertising and shopping.

For instance, you know that a particular product has quite a long conversion window, say longer than 20 days, then surely you’d want to bid more aggressively to people who were on your site in the last 20 days. You can also take advantage of both ‘bid only’ and ‘bid & target’ so you can choose to have your ads show to only those people on your lists, or to other users who match some of your other targeting criteria. If you aren’t taking advantage of this particular update, then I’d suggest you get on with it right now. I have personally tested multiple instances of it, and so far it seems to be working wonders with various clients’ shopping campaign performances.

So there you have it – a quick review of some of the more important updates to AdWords in the year 2015.

Given the number of updates rolled out in the past year, I’m sure that 2016 will be yet another year where we search engine marketers are scrambling to ensure that we are taking advantage of the enhanced AdWords functionality as much as we can, and as quickly as we can. Where do you think we’ll be this time next year? Drop some comments below, and we’d love to hear what you think.