Top 10 Changes to PPC in 2013 – A Year in Review

As 2013 comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on this last year and all of the changes that have taken place in the world of PPC. People who live and breathe SEM become accustomed to this ever-changing environment, so much so that these changes seem to quickly become the norm. As we await an approaching 2014, let’s reflect on the top 10 changes that occurred in PPC this year, and why they were important for search engine marketers:

Google Enhanced Campaigns



In February 2013, Google made the announcement that they would be rolling out a new campaign format to AdWords across all advertisers come July 2013. This was the launch of Enhanced Campaigns, which no longer allowed advertisers to selectively target specific devices and operating systems per campaign, but instead forced them to target and bid on desktops and tablets together, with the option of a mobile bid-modifier. While these changes incited a fair amount of feedback, particularly from agencies, Google insisted the changes were for the better. However, search engine marketers feared it would lead to inflated CPCs, particularly in the mobile and tablet space. With forced migration brought along other changes which most received positively, including geo bid-modifiers, advanced reporting options, campaign and ad group level extensions, and new ad formats like Mobile App Ads. Enhanced Campaigns turned AdWords users upside-down, questioning what Google’s strategy was behind it (besides raking in more dough), and what it meant for ad relevancy, performance reporting, previous best practices, and resource planning for future responsive landing pages.

Mobile App Ads

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As mentioned, the launch of Enhanced Campaigns also brought along new ad formats, including Mobile App Ads. This new ad format allowed advertisers to run click-to-download app ads on Google’s SERP (no longer just on AdMob for Display), easily connecting searchers to an app within the Google Play or Apple stores. Set up was simple, and tracking available for Android targeted ads (iOS was a bit trickier and involved installing an STK). The new ads also included an icon image, text, and an inserted highlight that your app was free (which didn’t take up character limits). Mobile App Ads opened up a new arena for mobile-intrigued advertisers, eager to find other channels to promote the download of their app.

Gmail Sponsored Promotions






Didn’t have an email marketing campaign set up, but want to get your ad message into people’s inbox? The initial beta-release of Gmail Sponsored Promotions (GSP) this year opened up to a select group and allowed advertisers to target ads within Gmail inboxes. Depending on their placement within the inbox, ads could include a promotional message, an icon, and additional ad links. Marketers could cover the available real estate within the inbox message, as ads shown were all from a single advertiser. Also, specific domains (like competitor domains) could be targeted so that competitive messaging was shown along a competitor’s opened email. GSP was an indicator that Google was continuing to test search ads in new spaces, and were pairing these efforts with the launch of email changes like Gmail’s tabbed inbox.

Remarketing Lists for Search





Another beta which snuck quietly into 2013, but that many tried, was Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA), a new campaign type which allowed advertisers to run remarketing ads on the SERP for previous site visitors. The initial roll out limited traffic volume for those opted in, but eventually this new campaign/ad format became available to all AdWords accounts towards the end of the year. Another bonus functionality for these campaigns was that these remarketing lists could be pulled from advertiser’s Google Analytics accounts and easily connected for these campaigns. RLSA provided an option to remarket to site visitors outside of the Display channel, and set up separate keyword builds, bid strategies, and customized messaging for these users searching on Google.

Image Extensions




Extensions began playing a larger role in 2013, with Google offering new extensions to test and try. One of these extensions types, Image Extensions, added in images to search ads (as the name suggests). These extensions aligned with Google’s recent motto to provide users with “richer, more diverse content”. Searchers initially saw this beta running in particular verticals like travel and automotive. However, these extensions have opened up to more advertisers, with many finding that the allowed number of ad groups that can be opted into the beta varying by Google rep you talk to (some say 5 ad groups, some say 2, etc). Whatever the threshold may be, Google continued to make the SERP a more visual, display-like place this year, something many search marketers thought Google vowed never to do.

Google Analytics – ABC Reporting

For those of us who weren’t naturally analytic nuts, Google Analytics was a bit overwhelming and not necessarily intuitive to use. But in October, Google decided to tackle this with the roll-out of their Google Analytics ABC Reporting interface, creating more focus in the UI. Traffic became Acquisition, Content became Behavior, and Conversion…well, stayed the same. Reports appeared faster, easier to use, and empowered those not as familiar with navigating analytic data. As Google provided advertisers new ways to target and advertise, they also took into account needed improvements to the analytical tools advertisers used to gain insight into performance on these new marketing endeavors.

Bing Ads UI Update

The search engine gods finally heard our prayers! This fall, Bing Ads rolled out updates to their (somewhat lacking) UI, many of which their peer, Google, had already had within their UI for the last 2 years. Some of these new changes included a campaign-tree, more viewable rows, ad preview improvements, a column chooser option, settings summaries, and easier location extensions set-up. And they didn’t stop there, as it appears Christmas came early this 2013, with Bing Ads listing a dimensions tab as one of their new updates in October (which advertisers are beginning to see pop-up in their UIs this December!). Bing Ads began to take actionable steps on their years of feedback from search engine marketers — many of which will be using those new features heavily into the new-year.


Extensions Factor Into Ad Rank

Sneaky Google and their end-of-the-year announcements! In late October, Google announced that they were making changes to how Ad Rank was calculated, now factoring in an advertisers use of ad extensions. Essentially,  Google’s was saying extensions needed to play a larger role in advertiser’s ad strategy, and using them would impact CPCs and where ads were eligible to show on different networks. Many were then enticed to not only set up extensions, but begin testing various messaging on them – unfortunately, Google limited how much advertisers could control A/B testing, with extensions automatically being rotated in such a way that those expected to receive better CTR were being shown most often. Once again, Google demonstrated with their new update that “richer, more diverse” content was now the norm, and were willing to ding advertisers who weren’t following suit.

Product Listing Ads Move to Top of Page

Product Listings Ads had seen new updates in 2013, with many e-commerce advertisers salivating for the expansion of the campaign type. This year, Product Listing Ads moved to showing in top position above search results, either in position 1 or on top of the right-side ad block. While the change was supposed to occur across all geos which currently allowed for product listing ads, it appeared that Google limited it, with many US Google reps assuring advertisers the move of PLAs to position 1 had been delayed. However, many other geos saw these ads moving to the top of the SERP, in prime position for improved CTR and conversion rates. Google really wasn’t kidding about that move to “richer, diverse content”, with this being the third out of our ten top changes this year utilizing richer content on the SERP.

Google SERP Testing

The last change to PPC on our list was tested in the last months of the year. Screen-shots were snagged of Google testing out large, banner ads for big-buck advertisers in specific verticals, looking eerily similar to Facebook or Twitter profile headers. However, the sitelinks below the banner ads were not paid text, but instead organic listings paired alongside an image ad. A click on the banner ad was synonymous with a click on a paid text ad. While the test only ran in the US, Google’s continuous SERP testing (including ad relevancy polls below ads, lighter-colored ad block boxes, and more) demonstrate that Enhanced Campaigns may have been the big change of 2013, but the SERP may be morphing and evolving further come 2014. We’ll all just have to keep our eyes peeled for all the upcoming changes in this next year.

Craig Labenz About the author
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