Mobile Impact & the Evolution of Search Campaigns

As fast as the modern consumer changes, marketers are tasked with operating at a pace even faster, to ensure brands are meeting the needs and expectations of their customers. And in a constant “ahead of the game” mindset, it’s often possible that predictions or ideas that once seemed certain may actually not pan out quite as you’d envisioned. Anyone in this industry can likely agree to that.

If you’re a PPC guru or search marketer, you may remember one of the more questionable predictions suggested by Google in 2013 during the release of Enhanced Campaigns, that essentially stated desktop and tablet behavior would become more and more similar over time. It went something like this –

People are constantly connected and moving from one device to another to communicate, shop and stay entertained. And there are many more digital screens and devices to come, with the lines between them continuing to blur. For example, as devices converge, consumer behaviors on tablets and desktops are becoming very similar.

Most of the thinking behind this statement was very much in alignment with the ways things were going at the time. Our multi-device customers were far more connected and demanded a more seamless experience from brands. But, the troubling thing Google seemed to suggest through the rollout of Enhanced Campaigns was that consumer behavior was converging, and becoming more similar across their different devices. While behavior on desktop versus tablet, for example, may not have varied too much in terms of conversion, mobile was slowly emerging as a crucial touch point for marketers at the time. You might be able to see where I’m going with this…

Flash forward to the end of 2016, and Google is singing a bit of a different tune. While the way someone understands a brand across devices should happen in a seamless manner, the experience between devices is inevitably different. By its very nature, a smartphone dictates a certain kind of ad or website experience – and over time, marketers have gotten a lot smarter at identifying customers’ behavioral queues on mobile that tell us what elements of the experience really matter to them. To cater to those expectations, we of course need the right processes in place.

So, back to Google’s earlier statement. Let’s not knock them too much – after all, three years is like an eternity in the fast-paced marketing world. Whip lash, anyone? Even though we may be poking fun at Google (and all in innocent, good fun), this does bring to light the many shifts we’ve seen in the search landscape, and how Google’s offerings have evolved over time in order to provide more value to both the marketer and the consumer.

Luckily, the days of Enhanced Campaigns are behind us, with the recent introduction of device-level bidding that you likely heard about a few months back. As we’re assessing these new opportunities with clients, it’s helpful to look back at how Google search campaigns have changed through the years. I think we’ve all learned a thing or two during this evolution, including the fact that people certainly do not behave “very similar” across different devices. We forgive you, Google!

Pre-Enhanced Campaigns:

Does anyone remember the days when we were expected to create a multitude of different campaigns – one for every location and for any number of device or keyword combinations? We were triplicating, even quadruplicating campaign structures; so from a pure efficiency and management standpoint, it wasn’t the greatest option. Back then, marketers were only beginning to open their minds to the promise of mobile, and the important role it might play in the customer journey. Things weren’t perfect by any means, but we did have control to test, learn and adjust campaigns individually as needed.

The Enhanced Campaigns That Saved Us All….But Did They?

Come 2013, and Google enforced a new structure on PPC advertisers called Enhanced Campaigns. EC were meant to alleviate the lack of efficiency in the prior AdWords structure, grouping different device campaigns under one umbrella. At the time, Google recognized the growing importance of mobile, and wanted to give advertisers the opportunity to understand its value through a combination of newer, “smarter” capabilities. Some of these features included new ad extensions, such as call and site link extensions, customizable ad text, image ads and drop down units. All in all, they were designed to give advertisers the tools to create great mobile experiences for customers, while simultaneously allowing desktop, tablet and mobile campaigns to live happily together.

But it wasn’t a rosy picture for everyone. While we may have gained some efficiencies through EC, we also lost a lot of control. Rather than being able to set an individual, separate bid for mobile campaigns, there was only a bid modifier capability. In other words, CPCs for mobile could only be a positive or negative % value from desktop, making it very difficult to scale on mobile without overbidding somewhere else. Google also seemed to be grouping desktop and tablet into one, even though behavior on the different devices was still showing variation. Many in the industry expressed their displeasure over these elements of Enhanced Campaigns, while some did agree that Google was taking a step in the right direction:

Bid modifiers have been ok. Not happy re lack of control over tablets and loss of mobile- or tablet-only campaigns. – Melissa Mackey

Have to admit, I do miss separate mobile campaigns. So much easier to analyze data. – Theresa Zook

It was a pain at first, but if it forces advertisers to create a better mobile user experience, that’s a good thing. – Rod

And, perhaps our favorite response

Matthew Umbro Tweet

In a lot of ways, Enhanced Campaigns were a step in the right direction, but certainly not a giant leap. In the above tweets, Rod said it well: EC did encourage advertisers to look at mobile advertising in a different light, and perhaps the industry did start to pay more careful attention to it. But as we grew to learn over the years, experiences across devices are meant to be entirely unique, and require advertisers to have the tools to make them so.

To Device-Level Bidding, and Beyond!

It seems we’ve now broken the chains of Enhanced Campaigns and have stepped into a new era of device-level campaign structure, with increased granularity and flexibility over bids. While these changes may bring back the headache we once felt before the days of EC, we know how crucial they are to continuing to enhance the overall mobile experience. And in this mobile-first world, that’s never been more important.

We’ll be testing these new campaign structures and monitoring performance as the holiday season continues. Stay tuned for more insights!

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