Techniques and Strategies for Paid Search in 2020

By Andrew Orozco

Now that the holidays are past and a new decade has begun, paid search marketers everywhere are sighing in relief and catching their breaths after the most hectic season of the year. But regardless of the excellent ROI and outstanding results we generated during prime retail season, now is no time to get comfortable and rest on our laurels. As always, the field of search engine marketing is evolving at a rapid pace, as search engines continue to introduce new technologies and techniques for achieving client goals. Whether your prime market is on Google Ads, Microsoft Ads, or elsewhere, 2020 will be a promising year for experimenting with new strategies to ensure your clients’ continued success. Here are a few developments that Advantix Digital is watching closely and taking into account as we prepare to maximize results in the roaring ‘20s.

Farewell to Average Position

In September 2019, Google retired the “average position” metric. Previously, advertisers were able to view exactly where their ads were displayed on the search engine results page, between 2-4 ads on top of the page, and a couple below organic search results. In a world where mobile and tablet devices continue to gain an increasing share of traffic, that average position metric has become less helpful, as the amount of ads above and below search results can change depending on the layout of search results. Often on mobile devices, Google reduces the number of ads shown compared to organic results, so the previous standard 4 ads above organic results no longer applies.

Introducing Top of Page and Absolute Top of Page

Instead, Google is now relying on two new position descriptors: “top of page” and “absolute top of page.” Top of page position refers to the 2-4 ads that appear above search results on desktop or mobile, and absolute top of page reports on what was formerly the first position above all other results. Microsoft Ads, formerly known as Bing Ads, is following suit, with plans to do away with classic ad position reporting in April this year.

How should paid search advertisers adapt? If any existing campaigns relied on bid strategies to achieve a client’s preferred position, be sure to adjust those strategies to relate to the new positioning paradigm. Google now offers “target impression share” strategies to place ads anywhere on the search results page, on the top of the page above organic results, or at the absolute top of page. (We assume Microsoft Ads will introduce similar options soon.) While bidding for the absolute top of page can be prohibitively expensive, it’s important to discuss these reporting changes with clients to ensure they understand how their ads might appear differently in an increasingly mobile-dominated landscape, and whether bidding for position remains an important key performance indicator for campaigns whose goal is visibility and impressions.

Hitting the Brakes on Accelerated Delivery

Another search option in both Google Ads and Microsoft Ads that fell by the wayside in 2019 was the choice between standard and accelerated delivery – whether advertisers wanted to receive even traffic and impressions throughout the entire time ads are scheduled to run, or to generate traffic and spend budget as quickly as possible.

As we’ve seen over the last few years with the introduction of more automated bidding options, Google and Microsoft are introducing more campaign management options that take advantage of machine learning and automated intelligence. Shifting away from accelerated delivery is another step in this direction. In short, the search engines believe their bid and budgeting options are more reliable methods of maximizing performance than simply choosing between standard and accelerated delivery.

This change should be another important talking point with clients who are used to exhausting their budgets early in the day. Consider alternate bidding strategies that might make up for this lost option – including target ROAS, maximize conversion value, and target impression share.

That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles

The final disappearing element of paid search campaigns we’ll address today is the third-party cookie. Cookies have traditionally been used in digital advertising as a way to track behavior of users as they interact with your website, and to follow up with them after they leave. However, concerns about user privacy have continued to hound companies that use cookies. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), implemented in 2018, heightened awareness of these privacy concerns – if you’ve done any internet browsing recently, you’ve likely noticed ubiquitous warnings that websites are using cookies to monitor your browsing activity.

Google has taken note of this enhanced awareness of privacy concerns, and announced plans to eliminate reliance on third-party cookies. These plans have been met with a wide mixture of responses – privacy advocates have applauded the move, but advertisers and publishers that rely on cookies for remarketing, conversion attribution, and data management are feeling skittish.

The only plans Google has released so far have declared their intent to deprecate third-party cookies in the next two years, and replace them with a solution called the “Privacy Sandbox.” Little information is available so far on what that will entail, but we’re following these updates closely to ensure we have the best plans in place for our clients when the age of cookies finally comes to a close.

Responsive Search Ads

Now that we’ve addressed the paid search advertising features that will soon see their final days, let’s move to a more positive tone and focus on features we expect to see more of in 2020. Responsive search ads, which can include up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions, are now available to all advertisers in both Google Ads and Microsoft Ads as of last Fall. The biggest benefit of these beefed-up ads is automated testing of different variations. The ads’ flexible format allows different combinations of text to be displayed as appropriate for different browsers, devices, and contexts – increase the ease of appearing in the right way at the right time for different users.

Early adopters of responsive search ads may not have seen much traffic to these ads, but as they become more widely adopted, Advantix Digital is seeing more clicks to these ads across all our campaigns. We recommend having one responsive search ad per ad group to ensure your ads can be seen in a user-friendly format no matter what search is performed from what device.

Discovery Campaigns

The most exciting new release from Google recently is the announcement of Discovery campaigns, which will appear in a native format within YouTube, Gmail, and Google apps on mobile devices. These ads support single-image and carousel image formats, and can be applied to drive awareness, traffic, or revenue. Though these ads appear to have limited reach so far – being isolated to a handful of Google properties – the advantage to these Discovery ads will be the deep user data Google has amassed. Using automated targeting and machine learning will ease management of these campaigns and ensure they’re delivered to an ideal audience, no matter the client’s goals.

Currently, Discovery campaigns are only available as a closed beta. Contact your Google representative to gain approval for this new campaign type, or reach out to Advantix Digital for a free audit to see how we can make Discovery campaigns work for you.

The Rising Chorus of Voice Search

Smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon Echo are the fastest-adopted technology in modern history – by 2020, 50% of all U.S. households are projected to own a smart speaker. Besides performing searches on smart speakers at home, smartphone users also increasingly rely on digital assistants on their mobile devices to complete easy searches as they’re on the go. Ensuring your ads are available for voice searches is of prime importance to be visible to searchers using cutting-edge technology.

For paid search professionals, optimizing campaigns for voice searches should be a main priority this year. Augment existing keyword lists with common questions related to your products or services, and include terms relevant to users’ local areas. This will help your clients’ ads show up for people who commonly ask their smart speakers questions. For further advice or to develop a detailed plan to conquer smart speaker search, be sure to reach out to Advantix Digital for a free consultation.