In 2022, Google made several announcements, updates, and not-so-subtle nudges that shifted the paid search landscape. (Google’s announcement page is a helpful and relatively objective compendium.)
This article will break down:
- The major moves from the past 12 months.
- How they impact paid search marketers.
- What they mean for the future of Google Ads.
A quick recap of major announcements
The change that got the most attention (for good reason, which I’ll explain briefly) was Google sunsetting Expanded Text Ads. This forced advertisers toward Responsive Search Ads (RSAs), which the platform announced in August 2021 and took effect in July 2022.
Other big updates included a big push toward Performance Max. Released to all advertisers in November 2021, it has taken over most ecommerce accounts with Google’s heavy-handed push away from Smart Shopping.
A similar trend with RSAs, Performance Max encourages marketers to advertise across YouTube, Display, Gmail, and Maps aside from search and signifies less control for advertisers as bidding and ad placements are automated.
It also means expert advertisers have fewer ways to give their campaigns an advantage over those run by beginners. (Lowering the barrier of entry seemed to be a big theme for Google in 2022.)
On the brighter side, Google released useful reporting upgrades with Custom Columns. They introduced nuance and flexibility within the Google Ads UI and took the burden of off-UI reporting workarounds from advertisers.
The last significant shift was the rise of image extensions (now called “assets”), which Google released to desktop en masse at the end of 2021. Currently, image assets include a “dynamic” option that automatically uses the most relevant image from the ad’s destination landing page.
This change shows Google’s directional push toward a more interactive SERP which they highlighted at Search On 22.
While image assets do often result in a lift in CTR (which makes sense since images draw attention), I haven’t witnessed much of a performance difference in my client accounts in regard to conversion.
Advertisers can control images by adding them at the ad group or campaign level. If you only add one, Google will only serve that one. As with any other asset, there’s no guarantee it’ll show every time.
I recommend turning off the “dynamic” option unless you fully trust Google to pick the most appropriate image from a multi-image landing page.
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The most helpful release of 2022
Let’s start with the good news: Custom Columns have made the reporting part of our lives easier.
Before the Custom Columns upgrade, Google reports only supported one conversion column that lets you segment by conversion actions without associated metrics like spend.
This produced a not-all-that-useful view.
Now, Custom Columns features a higher-level look that actually associates metrics with different conversion types, which looks like this.
Along with the new view, Custom Columns offers enhanced spreadsheet functionality (i.e., more calculation options that compare different time periods). The ability to compare time periods is very helpful for identifying fluctuations and trouble spots.
Set up indicators to give yourself a dynamic roadmap of priorities identified by data. My favorite creation here is a static 30-day look back of performance, regardless of the time period you’re using in the Campaign Manager.
The skeptic might say that adding this functionality within the UI and removing the need for advertisers to create their own custom reporting is another way Google is leveling the playing field for all search marketers, regardless of experience.
My take is that marketers who were taking the extra reporting step are relatively advanced, and now there are competitive advantages to be had from using the functionality to its fullest.
The least helpful release of 2022
A couple of caveats here:
- My accounts are weighted more toward B2B than ecommerce, which means Performance Max doesn’t personally affect me as much as the shift from ETAs to RSAs.
- I believe most experienced search marketers prefer more manual control to a faster, automation-heavy setup where Google has removed many of its former levers. More junior search marketers and/or people without much time for account optimization may disagree.
That said, Google sunsetting ETAs in favor of RSAs on June 30 was, for me, the biggest setback of the 2022 updates.
It’s not necessarily that RSAs always perform worse. There are accounts where RSAs are outperforming old ETA numbers.
But there were accounts we haven’t yet restructured wherein legacy ETAs continued to outperform tons of RSA combos no matter what we tried.
In general, we usually see an increase in CTR and CPLs when we switch to RSAs, which means they’re effective at getting the right people to click but don’t tend to convert as well.
The real issue, for me, is that advertisers just don’t have as many options for ad formats. You can technically recreate an ETA by using pinning mechanisms in the UI.
But this always results in a warning saying your ad strength is horrible, making me suspect that its ability to serve is limited.
Essentially, Google will get its way here – less advertiser control, higher CTR, and potentially higher CPL. In an economy with a big premium on efficiency, that’s not great news for advertisers.
Ultimately, 2022 is the year when Google leaned even more heavily into AI and machine learning. Time will tell whether those tools get more efficient over time.
For now, Google is walking a fine line between pulling in revenue (efficiency doesn’t help their bottom line, after all) and alienating advertisers who will seek more profitable engagement elsewhere.
For advertisers, the upshot is that while Google has made the barrier to advertising low, we can still distinguish our accounts by:
- Understanding when to test and optimize in less-controllable environments.
- Not simply trusting that Google has our best interests at heart.
Heading into 2023, I believe the most important skill to differentiate yourself as a Google Ads expert and get better results is a combination of platform experience and critical thinking.
I’ve run into plenty of advertisers pining for the more manual days of yore. The trick will be to draw on our experience and think critically. Let’s use the limited tools Google gives us to adapt as much as possible and work with automation.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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