Google’s Made Some Big AdWords Changes – How Should Startups React?

Google’s 2016 Performance Summit centered around one word: mobile.

The search giant announced a number of changes to their service offerings, including AdWords, Analytics and Maps. If you haven’t read any of the great roundups of the Summit, take a moment to do so (we recommend Search Engine Land and WordStream).

But if you’re wondering how all of this change impacts your real-world digital marketing efforts, we’re here to help.

Localized Ads, Promotions, Tracking

If you’re an e-commerce company, Software-as-a-Service offering, don’t have physical locations or services areas, or operate with a large geographic footprint (think national or international), feel free to skip this section.

But if you operate within a certain service area, have brick-and-mortar stores or need to be found when people search “[your product] near me,” the focus on local products should make your ears perk up.

Photo Credit: Google
Photo Credit: Google

In short, users of Google Maps will now see sponsored listings and promotions. This is a big, big deal for businesses, because nearly 1/3 of mobile searches are for local needs. For B2B and B2C alike, this will be a great chance to experiment driving users to call, click and visit your store.

Think of this as a competitor to local media spend. Instead of buying a billboard or a radio ad in your target city, try spending that same dollar amount on local search. Not only will you reach an audience that is highly qualified based on search criteria, but you have the ability to drive the same types of responses – phone calls and in-store visits.

Photo Credit: Google
Photo Credit: Google

The best part? Google’s ramping up availability of in-store conversion tracking, based on phone location history. In other words, you can see how many of the people who clicked your local search ad actually came to your coffee shop, gym, flooring store! That’s a serious step towards correlating online ads with offline conversion data.

Recommendation: For local businesses, allocate a portion of local media spend to test local search ads once they launch. Then, compare ROI based on spend, CPA, and CPM with other local media options.

Responsive Display Ads

Alright, all you Big Data companies, you can start paying attention again, because this one’s for everyone.

Display Advertising is typically much cheaper than Paid Search, can reach a huge audience for very attractive CPMs, and offers a variety of targeting options. So why don’t more businesses use it? In a word: cost. Producing ad variations in what feels like 1,000 different sizes (leaderboard, small rectangle, large square, skyscraper, etc.) for both mobile and desktop can be cost prohibitive.

Not anymore.

Photo Credit: Google
Photo Credit: Google

With the new Responsive Display Ads on the AdWords platform, you provide Google with the landing page and the text overlay data, and the system builds the ads for you. These ads will adapt to mobile, tablet, desktop, all in various needed sizes on the Google Display Network and in apps, even native ads.

So if cost has been holding you back from doing more Display Advertising, prepare to dive in.

Recommendation: Test of out the new responsive display ads to reach audiences that are difficult to target with Paid Search, such as by criteria like age, gender, interest, website topic, website keyword.

More Granular Device Bidding

A longtime cry from the SEM community has been for Google to allow separate bid modification and management for mobile, tablet and desktop (reminder: currently, desktop and tablet are bundled). Google has heard the tortured screams of performance marketers, and will be unbundling those devices later this year.

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Photo Credit:

If you already have campaigns up and running, it’s time to go examine device performance. It’s not uncommon to see big differences between tablet and desktop conversion rates and CTRs, and once those two devices are no longer tied together, it may be worth pausing or reducing bids for one or the other, depending on your data.

Additionally, it is now going to be possible to segment out device-specific campaigns. Want to advertise desktop software? Don’t run ads on mobile or tablet. Want someone to download your app? Skip the desktop ads. Want to use specific copy for mobile users and know that nobody else will see it? You get the idea.

Recommendation: Segment campaigns by device based on goals, and/or make bid adjustments based on conversion performance on different devices.

But Wait…

There are some other details from the Performance Summit as well:

  • More Google Display Network placements
  • Expanded text ad headlines and descriptions
  • A new AdWords interface
  • Demographic targeting for Paid Search
  • Local inventory search within Maps

Ultimately, the one piece that was missing amongst all of this information is launch dates. We know the new interface is expected in 2017, and the rest of the changes should roll out soon. Until we hear further from Google, we will need to prepare our strategies…and wait.


Would you like a professional review of your paid search, display or paid social advertising efforts? Our comprehensive PPC Audit offers just that. Let’s schedule a time to chat.


Vertical Video Isn’t Going Anywhere Anytime Soon

The digital marketing industry is famously prone to turnover, but it’s still unusual to see an established best practice turned (literally!) on its head. When it comes to online video, that’s exactly what has happened over the last few years. As recently as 2012, the idea of shooting videos with a vertical aspect ratio was little more than a joke. Fast forward to today, and it’s not just accepted—vertical video is quickly becoming mainstream.

In 2016, mobile devices drive 56 percent of traffic to top sites. Consumers increasingly use their phones and tablets to access content, rather than desktops. For the first time, mobile devices are more relevant for marketers and content producers than computers.

The fallout? Screen dimensions are smaller, people browse differently and sound is often turned off. And frustratingly for some video producers, 94 percent of smartphone users hold their device vertically to view web content.

Seeing Things Differently

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The human eye has a wide range of mobility, but some movements are more comfortable than others. “It is easier and more comfortable to move the eyes horizontally than vertically, especially up,” says Dr. Eli Peli, a Harvard ophthalmologist.

Screens have been traditionally built wider than they are tall because our eyes prefer scanning side to side. However, as technology has improved and devices have become smaller, screen orientation has become less important.

The main concern now for content producers is how to engage the most people. Early research shows vertical videos outperforming their horizontal counterparts. In fact, by simply shooting a video in portrait mode, producers can expect up to nine times more views on mobile devices!

From Tiny Acorns

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Photo Credit:

Vertical video owes much of its recent traction to Snapchat. The mobile video- and photo-sharing application is entirely vertical. User-generated content must be shot using the app, almost always in portrait mode. For advertisers and publishers, all ads and content must be vertical.

Snapchat has exploded in popularity recently, beating out both Twitter and Instagram among teens. It would be presumptuous to say that vertical video is the secret behind Snapchat’s success, but it has certainly been a factor. Snaps are short, mobile-centric and usually focused on a single person. In other words, they’re the perfect vehicle to showcase vertical video.

Three years after Snapchat made its debut, two Stanford graduates built Periscope. This live video-streaming application followed Snapchat’s successful example by going entirely vertical. Other platforms soon began experimenting with the format. Even Instagram, once a bastion of perfectly square content, recently caved and began catering to vertical images and videos, too.

As major platforms embraced it, vertical video became a real contender. It may never fully replace its horizontal cousin, but the evidence suggests that it’s more than just a passing trend—vertical video is here to stay.

Pros and Cons

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Make no mistake—portrait mode remains controversial. Purists in the film and marketing industries decry the movement as a cheap commercial fad. Commenters ridicule mobile users for being too lazy to flip their screens over when watching a video.  Desktop users complain about the black bars they see on the sides of their screens when they try to watch.

Horizontal video will likely remain the dominant format for most media production, but marketers are learning that vertical films allow them to engage specific audiences better. For engagement on mobile devices, vertical is unquestionably the best option.

By shooting upright, you gain several benefits:

  • No bars on the top and bottom of the screen
  • Users are more likely to watch ads when they don’t need to rotate their screens
  • Ability to market on Snapchat and Periscope
  • More screen space to use creatively
  • Format naturally favors portraits

Of course, there are certain inherent sacrifices as well:

  • Videos play poorly on desktops
  • The best cameras are built to shoot horizontally
  • Less space for lines of text
  • Difficult to film conversations

The Bottom Line

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Are you looking for a way to engage more mobile viewers? Experimenting with vertical video formats may be a valuable use of your time. For content creators, portrait mode opens up new windows of opportunity. Beyond just using the screen more efficiently, it facilitates marketing on platforms like Snapchat and Periscope.

With mobile devices increasingly dominating the marketing universe, it makes sense to create content specifically for phone screens. It’s no longer a revolutionary or counterculture move to shoot video vertically. In fact, if anything, it displays foresight and healthy creativity.

Vertical video will only become more prevalent as the mobile revolution continues to play out. Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter. We value the dialogue you create.