Every year we look back at the year that ‘was’ in Search and try to understand the year it ‘could’ be for the next. Through our series of ‘The Year in Search’ we look back at what actually happened, we’ll take some points of view from some of the key thought leaders across the industry, and we will also give you our ideas as to what 2020 will look like.
There have been so many changes in 2019, so we thought that we would document all of the key updates that have happened right here for you. From there, our series of posts will look at what might come up next in 2020; keep your eyes peeled! For now, just sit back, relax, and let us take you through the changes that mattered most to you in Search this year.
- Google Conferences set the scene for 2019
- Out with the old, in with the new
- Making platforms more useful for activation, planning and reporting
- Continuing to test
- Using the power of Google to help make bidding decisions
- The industry got upset with some changes, but now we are used to them
- Tracking, Measurement & Privacy Updates
- 10 years of Bing. Microsoft Advertising really comes into its own
Google’s conferences set the scene for 2019…
Google Marketing Live & Google Search I/O gave us new innovations:
Google Marketing Live happened in May 2019 and it focused on how you can use Google’s products to ‘Be There’, ‘Be Useful’ and ultimately ‘Be Responsible’. We got a glimpse into the newest ad formats, the latest in machine learning, and new tools they were set to launch. We wrote a big piece on this earlier in the year (you can find this here), but some of the key highlights were;
- New Ad Formats
- Discovery Ads
- Gallery Ads
- Showcase Shopping Ads
- New Audiences
- Custom Audiences
- New Smart Bidding Solutions
- Maximise Conversion Value
- Conversion Action Sets
- Seasonality Adjustments & More
- New Google Shopping Interface
In May we also had the developer conference that Google titled ‘Google I/O 2019’ where they showed how their focuses this year were going to be on making Google work harder for you, with the single goal of being ‘helpful for you’. They also stressed how Google will become more visual over the course of the year, and the introduction of new ad formats certainly proved that was the case. Here, they also launched their Augmented Reality features for Search which was pretty cool. It was packed with interesting insights, and we can’t wait for next year’s event.
Out with the old, in with the new…
Lots of updates to existing platforms
Google’s Manufacturer Centre had lots of updates this year
This included areas of rich content within Google Shopping such as in the above example, as well as some updates to analytics within the centre to see which competing brands and products show with yours the most often. New updates to the interface meant that we got to see a lot more data and control over descriptions for manufacturers.
Search Console got a lick of paint
In September, Google removed the old version of Search Console in favor of it’s new redesigned interface which was more aligned to it’s other products (such as Google Ads). It took about 2 years of testing to get it right, but finally they announced that they would be moving to the new and improved interface.
Google Shopping got a new interface in the US, slowly being rolled out globally
After launching this idea at Google Marketing Live 2019, the new version of Google Shopping went live in the US. This interface even offers personalized recommendations, as well as a ‘Buy on Google’ feature which was Google’s way to try and steal market share from Amazon.
Google Ads Editor got a lot more powerful
Editor got a brand new look this year when it launched Google Ads Editor v1, and recently launched other versions which include Shared Negative Keyword list management and even Dark Mode! It feels like Editor got a lot more powerful this year, which follows on from the aim of Google attempting to make products that are a lot more helpful to advertisers.
Goodbye old competitive metrics, Hello new:
It was finally time to say “Goodbye” to Average Position…on Google
The industry had mixed feelings over the removal of Average Position this year. In February 2019, we were told to prepare for the sun-setting of one of the first metrics introduced to AdWords. By then, it was no real surprise as we had already been introduced to new average position metrics in November 2018. We already predicted the death of this metrics after that. Although, it did take a while to finally disappear from accounts as Google staggered it’s death from week commencing the 30th September.
Google gave us Click Share for Search campaigns
In addition to the new competitive metrics above, Google also gave us Click Share for Search Campaigns. Previously available for Shopping, Google decided to roll this out to more campaign types from March 2019 on wards. I’m not sure about you, but I haven’t really found it that useful so far.
We got competitive metrics for Audiences – sign of things to come?
Google launched competitive metrics for Audiences at the start of 2019 which meant that we could now see metrics such as Impression Share by Audience rather than just by Campaign, Ad Group and Keyword level. We wrote a piece on how we think this is a sign of things to come.
Updates to existing Ad Formats:
As with every year, we got a lot more updates to existing ad formats. We saw Call-only Ads get expanded character limits, the expansion of 3rd party sitelinks in Google Ads, and Apple extended its Search Ads support to 46 more countries.
We also existing ad formats spread out into YouTube. If you were opted into Search Partners from January 2019 onwards you would have been eligible to have your text ads appear on YouTube. Google also extended Shopping Ads to more of it’s YouTube inventory.
New Ad Formats:
In addition to everything new that Google introduced at Marketing Live, Google introduced Shoppable Ads to Google Images to target users looking at similar images for inspiration. Google also introduced Lead Form Extensions to capture leads directly in Google rather than go to site.
GOOGLE ADS: *NEW* Lead Form Extensions
— Steven Johns (@stevenjohns21) 19 October 2019
Exciting new Audiences:
We saw some exciting new developments for Audiences in Search campaigns with the introduction of Seasonality Event Audiences; just in time for Black Friday. We also saw Affinity Audiences launch for Search, as well as Google Ads Combined Audiences; which would allow us to combine our best audiences into one list.
New Augmented Reality innovations for Search:
This year we saw new innovations for search which were launched at Google I/O 2019; these were centered around Augmented Reality and 3D Search Results.
Augmented Reality for Google Maps was introduced in an aim to revolutionise the way that we get directions. In the same vein, Google added support for 3D search results and demoed with some examples of how this could be useful for medical students and those interested in animals! Microsoft Advertising also tested a 3D ad format for specific product searches.
There was a focus on making Google Ads more useful for activation, planning and reporting…
Huge updates to Planning tools:
Performance Planner goes live in Google Ads which has the aim of displaying the predicted impact of account changes on your clicks, conversions, and other metrics. The focus of this tool is to show how much incremental gain you could get. Again, this was highlighted at this years Google Marketing Live.
Google also updated the Keyword Planner a few times this year, with some more significant changes to help make it easier to use introduced in July. This included prioritising your keywords by relevance and Brand keyword exclusions.
Google Ads updated the Predefined Reports view, which personally I find super useful. It was a small change, but made it much easier to navigate to in the interface.
In recent months, there has been more of a focus on displaying recommendations and explanations directly in the interface as you navigate day to day and hover over key metrics. Initially this was in the style of ‘Recommended Columns‘ when you go to modify columns in Google Ads. This month, Google has introduced ‘Explanations‘ to help you understand reasons for performance changes.
Making it easier to manage our campaigns:
Google Ads App got a big revamp which makes it easier for you to manage campaigns on-the-go. Google Ads got a new account map which makes it easier to visualise manager accounts. This is great for advertisers that manage large accounts as it allows you to navigate across multiple accounts more effectively!
Optimisation Score also continued to be evolved throughout the year as new campaign types got added into the mix. Optimisation Score in Google Ads now includes Shopping Campaigns as well as Display.
Continuing to test…
Lots of testing:
The world was duped by a fake post on Search Engine Land which apparently showed that Google was testing Ads in Assistant. We described in detail here how we believe that this was all a plan by the person that submitted the “screenshot” to get more traffic to their website.
In terms of genuine tests, we saw Google testing carousel of text ads on mobile which was really interesting to see. This meant that P1 would get the whole real-estate and any other position would be subject to the humiliating carousel version of their ads.
— SEMrush (@semrush) June 20, 2019
We also saw Google testing carousel local pack with ads displayed too, which continues on the theme of Google testing more carousel formats to display results for users.
We explored the hubbub around Google Ads testing truncated text ads. We came to lots of different reasons what this could mean for you in our original post.
Continued focus on using the power of Google to help make bidding decisions…
Continued improvements to bidding:
As we mentioned above, Google Ads bidding strategies were updated after Google Marketing Live. We are now able to set conversions at campaign level, apply seasonality bid adjustments, maximise conversion value and create conversion value rules.
We can now add Store Visits into smart bidding to help drive footfall to stores which is a great addition to help drive better omnichannel results.
We also saw new Signals added into Google’s smart bidding options. These new signals included App ratings (for app download campaigns), as well as price competitiveness for Shopping Campaigns.
The most exciting development for me (as an avid Search Ads 360 user) is that auction-time bidding for search has been rolled out into Search Ads 360. This literally makes it one of the most powerful tools on the planet at the moment to help drive advertisers better results. We wrote a piece on how to get started with auction-time in Search Ads 360 here.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks that Google sees in smart bidding adoption is the fact that you can’t see which signals Google is using to help make some of it’s decisions. It’s this black box that has caused many advertiser to opt-out completely. In an effort to get them back on side, Google has introduced a feature where they will be able to show you some of the ‘Top Signals’ it is using to make decisions in smart bidding.
The industry got upset with some changes, but now we are used to them…
Google continued to make changes people werent happy with:
In May 2019, Google changed the Ad Label from Green to Black on Mobile and introduced the war of favicons for organic search results. With Mobile becoming increasingly visual, Google also made some amends to the organic results which included more images to make the content much richer directly in the results pages.
Google gets fined again for breaching EU rules, this time for AdSense. It was the third fine which the other two centred on it’s apparent abuse of Google Shopping.
Google Ads quietly releases update to Location targeting options which meant that it was now harder to exclude people who regularly visited your target locations.
Google removed Accelerated delivery for search & shopping campaigns which means that all campaigns reverted to standard delivery. A lot of advertisers were angry about this, it felt like another blow for them to keep control over how budgets were spent. Ultimately, this is a win for Google.
Google extended same-meaning close variants to phrase match, broad match modifiers. This continued to blur the lines of the rules between match types.
Google gave advertisers some additional controls
Google launched Policy Manager in Google Ads which gave advertisers one place to manage all of their potential policy violations. This consolidates the view for us which is a plus.
After much complaint, Google finally allowed us to specify location targets in Smart Shopping Campaigns. Thank You!
Tracking, Measurement & Privacy Updates
Privacy continues to grow:
DuckDuckGo continues to grow as it broke 9 billion searches in 2018 and this didn’t show any signs of slowing down as we went into 2019. There is a clear appetite for users in taking back control.
Even Google said that they were concerned about privacy and automation as the biggest threats for PPC. Of course, we saw more updates to Apple’s ITP which helps to render third-party cookies less useful. This conversation will continue to be a focal point in 2020.
Google Ads Attribution Reports now include cross-device conversion data in an effort to bring transparency to it’s data.
We got some new metrics in Google Ads which now show cart metrics for Shopping Campaigns. This would give you additional insights into your converted baskets such as the number of items sold and profit.
As well as the above, Google Ads debuted ‘Conversions by Time’ reporting. These new metrics would capture when your conversion actually occurred. Really useful to help understand how long the duration from click to basket takes. This metrics could also be useful in informing you of the duration of your audience lists.
10 years of Bing. Microsoft Advertising really comes into its own…
Happy Birthday Bing:
This year, Bing turned 10 years old. Search Engine Land wrote a great piece on how Bing has been more disruptive than you think.
Hello Microsoft Advertising:
As Google did a few years ago, Bing Ads was rebranded to Microsoft Advertising this year. Their focus was to evolve the brand to have personalisation and AI at the heart of everything it does. This helped to cement 2019 as one of Microsoft Advertisings best years.
Most recently, Microsoft Advertising has announced that it is getting a new interface. It looks very much like what we are all used to in Google Ads, but with Microsoft’s noticeable touch. We are excited about this! In November, they also redesigned Microsoft Advertising Editor and added a few more features to make it more powerful than ever. This included recommendations, advanced filtering and Undo/Redo.
Microsoft Advertising keeps up the pace with Google:
Microsoft Advertising ensured that its easier for advertisers to align their campaigns across engines with updates to Settings, Formats, Audiences, Bidding, Metrics and it’s Tools & Reporting.
- Bing aligns language targeting with Google
- Bing removes destination URLs in favour of Final URLs
- Parallel tracking and Custom Parameters coming to Microsoft Advertising
- Microsoft depreciates accelerated delivery
- Bing launched page feeds for DSAs
- Local Inventory Ads rolling out for Microsoft
- Ad customizers are now available in all Microsoft Advertising accounts
- Microsoft opens responsive search ads beta to all advertisers
- Price Extensions supported in Microsoft Advertising Editor
- Bing Ads Custom Audiences now available in more markets (excl. EU, Norway and Switzerland)
- Similar Audiences now available to more advertisers in Microsoft Advertising. They also launched Product Audiences which is a differentiation from Google.
- Maximise Clicks available worldwide for Microsoft Advertising
- Microsoft Advertising introduces new competitive metrics
Tools & Reporting…
- Microsoft Ads announced that it will be rolling out experiments testing tool worldwide
- Microsoft introduces Search Query Reports for Shopping Campaigns
- Microsoft introduces account hierarchies which is essentially Manager Accounts for multi-account clients. It should make the management of accounts much easier!
Microsoft Advertising is focused on differentiating itself:
Despite Microsoft keeping up the pace with Google this year, there have been some real differentiation that it was keen to shout about. We expect to see nothing less in 2020. Bring it on!
- Microsoft Ads Performance Insights now available to everyone. I particularly like the Competitor tab as it shows the trends for competitor Impression Share much more clearly.
- Bing will now serve all Yahoo Ads in a boost to it’s search offering.
- Microsoft looking to carve it’s own path and build some more unique ad formats for advertisers. These new formats include 3D Ads, Video Extensions, Action Extensions and much more!
- Microsoft Advertising says it’s keeping average position reporting, despite Google removing it. We’ll see if this stays in the longer term.
Keep your eyes peeled for our thoughts on 2020 in our ‘Year in Search’ series. Coming Soon!
- Google updates Search Partner Network for greater control & transparency - February 28, 2024
- Year in Google Search 2023: Celebrating 25 Years - December 18, 2023
- OpenAI and Sam Altman reunited. What happened and what’s next? - December 17, 2023