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Good Read: The Top 10 Google AdWords Updates of 2013

The folks at Google AdWords have been busy elves over the last year – so much so that just keeping up with all of the changes is practically a full-time job. By my estimation Google has rolled out over a thousand new AdWords features and changes in the last year alone. That’s almost 20 new features or changes every week! The challenge for marketers is that we often just discover the new stuff as we make our way through our accounts; Google doesn’t even announce the vast majority of their AdWords updates.

Don’t worry – we’ve got your back! We’ve kept on top of the notable changes this year and identified the ten most impactful updates for paid search marketers. Some were great and necessary improvements and others… not so much. However, they’re all changes you should know about, in order to understand their potential impact on your AdWords performance.

This list was informed by my social network of PPC pros on Twitter – particularly, those who participate in #PPCchat – who recently shared their favorite new AdWords features of 2013. Participants including Robert Brady, Melissa Mackey, Matt Umbro, David Szetela, John Rampton, Susan Waldes, Sam & Carrie from Hanapin Marketing and all others who answered our call to uncover the memorable PPC changes from 2013.

Which Google AdWords updates made the most noise this past year? Check it out:

Top 10 AdWords Features

10) Change in Ad Rank Formula: Extensions & Ad Formats Matter

Just last month, Google announced a change in their Ad Rank formula that was voted the most important update of 2013 by our panel of experts. This update is also the most difficult to understand.

Ad Rank is not a new feature; rather, this change affects how AdWords decides the ranking order of competing ads on a keyword search listing page. It also plays a huge role in determining the prominence of your ads on a search results page and your cost-per-click. Considering the impact of this update, Google’s announcement about it was relatively quiet.

The order in which competing ads are ranked on a SERP obviously has a huge impact on the visibility of your ads to potential customers. Prior to the update, Google would take the maximum you were willing to pay, multiply it by your quality score, and place ads in descending order based on ad rank.  

A lesser known fact about Ad Rank is that it plays a huge role in determining how much your competitors will pay for their clicks.

Ad Rank Change

The formula AdWords uses to calculate your CPC (which is not the same thing as your maximum CPC bid; that is the most you are willing to pay, but not necessarily what you are actually charged) has everything to do with the Ad Rank of your closest competitor, divided by your Quality Score, plus 1 cent.

Ad Rank helps determines both your ad position and the cost-per-click of your nearest competitor.

As of last month, the Ad Rank formula will also take into account a new third component: the expected impact from your ad extensions and formats. In addition, Google has increased the importance of Ad Rank in determining whether your ad is eligible to be displayed with extensions and formats. If Google anticipates a positive impact from your Ad Extensions, your ad position will improve, your CPC will go down, and your competitors will see their CPCs increase. Conversely, if your competitors use Ad Extensions and if you fail to use them, your ad positions will drop, your CPCs will go up, and your competitors’ CPCs will go down.

For this reason, the use of Ad Extensions is no longer optional, in my opinion. Google is effectively penalizing advertisers who don’t use them. If you didn’t get the memo, now you know: it’s time to audit your ads and make sure they employ as many relevant ad extensions as possible!

9) Flexible Bid Strategies

Flexible bid strategies (announced in May) allow marketers to apply different bidding strategies within the same campaign or across different campaigns. This gives you the freedom to choose the appropriate bid strategy – whether optimizing for cost per click, position, or conversion – without the constraints of how your account is structured.

One of the most challenging aspects of the new feature is simply finding it. It’s located in the Shared Library tab under Bid Strategies.

Flexible Bid Strategies

Simply create and save a bid strategy according to your goals, then apply that strategy to any of your campaigns or ad groups.

This is a welcome change; previously, you had to choose one bid management strategy for all keywords and ad groups within a campaign.

8) Remarketing Lists for Search Ads (RLSA)

Next on the list, we have an incredible new feature that impacts both remarketing and search, called “Remarketing Lists for Search Ads” or RLSA. This lets you customize your search ads campaign for people who have previously visited your site and tailor your bids/ads to these visitors when they're searching on Google.

When people leave your site without buying anything, remarketing lists for search ads helps you reconnect with these potential customers as they continue using Google Search. You can set your bids, create ads, or select keywords, keeping in mind that these customers have previously visited your website.

There are two basic strategies for using remarketing lists with search ads:

  • Bid on keywords you don't normally bid on to target people who have recently visited your site, or have converted on your site in the past. This can help increase your sales. For example, you could bid on more generic keywords, only for those who have previously purchased from you.
  • Optimize existing keyword bids for visitors on your remarketing lists. For example, you can increase your bid by 25% for those who viewed your website in the last 30 days. Or, you could show a different ad to site visitors who have placed items in a shopping cart, but have not purchased them.

RLSA is an exciting way that Search and Display advertising technologies are converging, allowing for more precise targeting. It’s accessible within the Audience Tab in AdWords.

7) Paid vs. Organic Report

The Paid vs. Organic Report update was announced in August and is designed to help you analyze and optimize your search footprint on Google.

Previously, most search reports showed paid and organic performance separately, without any insights on user behavior when they overlap. The new report is the first to let you see and compare your performance for a query when you have either an ad, an organic listing, or both appearing on the search results page.

Paid vs. Organic

The key benefits of the new report include the ability to:

  • Discover additional keywords. Discover potential keywords to add to your AdWords accounts by looking for queries where you only appear in organic search, with no associated ads.
  • Optimize presence on high-value queries. Use the report to improve your presence in paid results and monitor your high-value queries for organic results.  
  • Measure changes holistically. As you test website improvements or AdWords changes to bids, budgets, or keywords, you can more easily report the impact across paid, organic, and combined traffic.

6) Ready Image Ads & Ready Ad Gallery

This year also saw the release of an incredible pair of new features: Ready Image Ads and Ready Ad Gallery.

Display ads need to captivate consumers with rich creative and dynamic messaging, yet creating an engaging, beautiful ad takes more time and effort than some advertisers (especially SMBs) can justify. Ready Creatives puts the power back in your hands and makes it easier than ever before to create beautiful ads that can be consistently displayed across screens.

Simply click “Create New Ad” and Google will then scan your website and automatically create a portfolio of Flash and HTML5 ads in different dimensions.

Ready Image Ads

AdWords now makes it easy for advertisers to add images and edit text. If you want to make bigger changes, use the editor to further customize your ad appearance. There’s a rich library of premade templates to choose from.

Creating display ads has never been simpler – particularly for small businesses who might not employ full-time graphics design resources. All advertisers can now more easily create awesome and compelling ads for remarketing and display ad campaigns.

5) In Market Targeting

While we’re on the subject of Display Ads, another big feature (that hasn’t even been announced yet) is the new “In Market Targeting” feature on the Google Display Network. Google does this all the time – they release really important features and don’t even tell people about it.

Listed under Interest Categories, the new In-Market Buyers segments are designed to target visitors whose site visitation habits suggest they are in active-consideration mode and want to make a purchase.

Using In Market Targeting, you can target consumers who are further down in the funnel and considering buying a product or service like yours. You’re basically identifying people who want to make a purchase based on their search and site behavior, rather than specific behavior.

In Market Targeting

Shout out to my friend and colleague David Szetela, Owner & CEO of paid search agency FMB Media, who spotted the quiet roll-out in several of his client accounts earlier this month and provided the screenshot above.

4) Dynamic Remarketing

A third and final remarketing feature that made the list this year is Dynamic Remarketing. Retailers with a Google Merchant Center account can use dynamic remarketing to construct remarketing ads on the fly, using the products and messages predicted to perform best based on visitors’ past actions on-site.

Dynamic Remarketing Ads

For example, customers who browsed the dresses category on an advertiser’s website might see an ad with an array of the exact products they’ve already viewed, in addition to related products from the company’s catalog. In the screenshot above, the ad also shows details of a recently viewed dress, including the price.

Dynamic Remarketing is an ideal solution for online retailers with thousands of different products.

That’s a lot of significant changes, so far. See what I mean? Google doesn’t even TELL you about some of these. Stay put, because we’re just getting to the Top 3 features of Enhanced Campaigns, which dominated the news for most of the year.

3) Location-Based Bid Management

This favorite Enhanced Campaigns feature set allows for more precise geotargeting. Advertisers no longer have to create a separate campaign to target a specific state, city, or area code. This update made it possible to set bidding adjustments for specific locations within each campaign, making it a huge timesaver for PPC marketers.

Location-Based Bidding

Location-based bid management is available in the Settings tab, under Locations > Edit Locations. Once you’ve added and saved your locations, Google will present a bid modifier for each location. Simple! These adjustments allow you to raise or lower bids in specific areas using positive or negative indicators. For example, a +15% adjustment for the city of New York tells AdWords you’re willing to increase your maximum bid there by 15%. Conversely, a -10% adjustment means you want your max bid 10% lower in that geographical area.

This is a fantastic tool that allows for much greater control over campaigns spanning a wide area.

2) Time-Based Bid Management

The ability to schedule bid adjustments for specific times of day and days of the week is an incredibly valuable one for advertisers. You can choose to lower your max bid in the overnight hours, for example, or to increase your bids during hours of the day you’ve found more competitive.

Time-Based Bid Management

This feature is also found in the Settings tab, under Ad Schedule > Edit Ad Schedule. This works in the same way as location based bid management, in that you use a positive or negative percentage to indicate to Google the amount you wish to increase/decrease your bids at specific times.

It gets REALLY granular when you begin using a few of these features together, to pinpoint exactly the right person, at the right time, with the right message.

And my pick for the most impactful AdWords feature update of 2013:

1) Enhanced Sitelinks!

New Enhanced Sitelinks provide advertisers with far greater control over the appearance of their ads. For example, you can now schedule your sitelinks to talk about lunch specials at lunch time, or dinner specials in the evening. (Genius!) Moreover, you can designate sitelinks as being mobile preferred, thus providing an opportunity to present ads that are more relevant to the user context (i.e. where, what time, and  from what device did the search originate from). Best of all, you can do all of this within a single campaign now.

Enhanced Sitelinks Ads

Furthermore you can now report on the performance of individual sitelinks – previously you could only report on groupings of sitelinks. For all of these reasons, new enhanced sitelinks in 2013 were far and away the most popular feature of Enhanced Campaigns this year.

Enhanced Sitelinks Reporting

2014 Promises More Change… Are You Ready?

There may well be another thousand updates and tweaks to AdWords in the coming year, many of which will launch quietly, unannounced by Google and only discovered when we come across them in our accounts.

There’s still time to prepare! Start by goof-proofing your account to be sure you aren’t making any rookie mistakes, then commit to getting more active in your account – even in 20 minutes a week, you can start making big improvements.

Finally, enter for your chance to win a $25,000 Marketing Makeover courtesy of yours truly, including Google AdWords budget, email and PPC software to grow your business in 2014. Hurry, the contest closes December 15!

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