PPC: The myths, truths and predictions from this year and next

Blog | 28 Dec, 2016

Written by Allie Vadas, Richard Hartley, Nadine Giquel and James Scriven

In 2016, we saw several advancements in Paid Search, including the Similar Audiences for Search, the increased usage of DSA, and the return of tablet bidding.


Ad customizers have continued to play an important role and are looking to roll out new features that will increase relevancy for highly targeted audiences.

We've gathered our PPC experts to dispel some of the myths predicted at the end of last year, the truths in terms of what we were right about, and the big things to look out for in 2017.

Feel free to comment on the article below and pose any questions you may.


Jump to section:

Bidding beyond keywords

Extended text ads

The triumphant return of tablet bidding

The evolution of ad customizers

The merging of Merchant Centre and AdWords


Bidding beyond keywords

Myths – What have we been led to believe?

During 2016, Google launched Similar Audiences for Search. This functionality allows marketers to reach new audiences with similar search behaviors and their existing customers. Just as recently as December of 2016, Google announced that it now allows advertisers to apply audiences at a campaign level, making it easier to measure and change bid adjustments.

Skeptics think this technology takes control away from the marketers and is the “easy” way out, and from a very basic level that point of view would be correct. But when done well, it is possible to push the limits of this technology and see tremendous gains in personalization and scale. Personalization that starts from the user query and continues through the user journey is propelled by the utilization of backend data feeds and audience layers.


Truths – what were we all right about?

Historically, search has focused on mapping to the millions of keywords included on a keyword list. However, this isn’t the only way to run campaigns. We’re seeing the search industry move towards a much more user-centric approach, personalizing the journey to the queries people are typing.

Search engines have improved their technology to allow paid search marketers to skip the keyword build-outs steps and map the query to the relevant information in the exact moments they are searching, unique to them at that very moment, no keywords involved.

The same functionality that indexes the company's website for SEO purposes, can now be used for paid search by automatically creating ads for on-site products that match exactly what people were searching for.

Through Google Dynamic Search Ads (DSA), the headline and landing page are generated to highlight a specific listing, as well as match the users’ search terms. In 2016, Jellyfish client ForRent.com saw 30% increase in click-through rate and a 71% decrease in CPL as a result of using DSA. The DSA below was created for ForRent.com to highlight particular listings by search criteria and geography.


What do we think we should look out for next year?

Will the technology improvements completely rid PPC interns of ever having to agonize over keyword generation and keyword mining for hours? Maybe, to some extent. With anything, first comes the adoption and understanding of the technology, then marketers will be pushing the limits of the technology to create the most personalized experience for the user.

Additionally, Google is certainly taking the idea of feed based data to optimize campaigns seriously. Now alongside product feeds we have ad customizer feeds, extension feeds, dynamic display ad feeds, etc. Clearly, feed based data will form part of their future plans and the limit could then be the quality and quantity of data advertisers can plow back into their ad serving.

At the very least, this would be a welcome change for PPC managers and the ease of getting value out of their PLAs. However, if it happens, it could represent the onset of a brave new world of functionality moving us all away from more simple keyword bidding and into a whole new era of enriched ads on SERPs.

Expanded Text Ads


Truths – what were we all right about?

As you might remember, back in August, we shared our findings of Expanded Text Ads since their launch. One of the biggest concerns we initially noticed with the introduction of the ETAs was the difference in CVR when comparing standard ads to expanded ads. In the early stages, the CTR uplift we experienced for the expanded ads was very promising, but CVR for the ads type was far worse than that of expanded ads.

Due to ETAs being longer and occupying more space on the SERP, we suspected that users are clicking on the ads without reading them, then leaving the site without converting because the product was not what they perceived it to be. After shortening the ads and trying different language combinations, we noticed an uplift in CVR from the ETAs, while maintaining the CTR improvement.

What didn’t we see coming?

The transition period was extended to January 31, 2017, which means advertisers will have more time until we can no longer edit or create standard ads. More importantly, we were given more time to test which versions of ETAs performed better. The aforementioned results were a product of testing different ad lengths, which included shorter description lines. We tested ad variations which only included the brand name in the first headline and a CTA in the second headline.

Shorter description lines were used to help avoid truncation, but they were also informative enough to write a compelling ad. Another benefit of the of the transition period being pushed back is that advertisers are given more time to actually determine which ad type works better. This will go a long way in determining what language/length combinations work best, as well as ensuring the transition is completely thought out and not rushed.

In August, Bing adopted the new ad format (in beta), then completely rolled out ETAs in mid-October. Many of their recommendations were similar to that of Google’s, which included the suggestions to run the expanded ads alongside the expanded ads and test multiple CTAs and different variations of ETAs. Bing has also provided advertisers the ability to import ETAs directly from the Adwords interface and many third party management platforms will have this capability soon.


What do we think we should look out for next year?

There were mixed feelings and mixed results with the introduction of ETAs, but it seems as though the new ad format can greatly benefit advertisers. We have high expectations for the new format as we transition into 2017.


The triumphant return of tablet bidding

What didn't we see coming?

One thing no one predicted this year was the welcome return to tablet bidding. We all cried when so-called ‘enhanced’ campaigns removed our ability to bid based on tablets in stark contrast to Google’s previous advice to split campaigns out and bid separately. We thought we’d never see it back and yet here we are adjusting our bid multipliers to gain better returns.

So what changed? Firstly, it was hypocritical of Google to take pride in their new cross-device tracking functionality while not giving us the ability to do anything about it.

Secondly, advertisers are getting savvier and are starting to recognize tablets role in the user information gathering process, and hence are less likely to crank down bids based only on the un-attributed, last click data in the engine account. Google know we’re getting smarter and are rewarding us accordingly.

Third, the definition of devices hasn’t blurred as much as predicted. As phones got bigger and tablets got smaller it was easy to predict a merging of devices, yet this never really happened. Consumers are comfortable with what a phone is and what a tablet is. Usage of tablets has also plateaued as people get more used to their phones – we spend about 11% of our ad spend on tablets.


What do we think we should look out for next year?

It’s still not all perfect – we’ve still don’t have the best functionality to write ad copy for tablets nor do we have any ValueTrack parameters to track conversions per device on any propriety tracking technology. Bid management platforms are still generally behind the game with being able to bid algorithmically for tablets, but we expect that’ll come next year.

Jellyfish has certainly not been clawing back bids heavily on tablets now we’ve got the ability, nor have we started to break campaigns out by device again. We recognize the benefits of taking the keyword bid and adjusting with multipliers just like we do for demographic, geography, etc. and maintaining a consistent user experience. But, as always, we continue to test this theory.

As Google improve the cross-device tracking and attribution modeling we’ll be able to get a more accurate view of tablet’s real value in the path to conversion. Maybe next year will be another year of the tablet – part II!

The Evolution of Ad Customizers

In the busy world of PPC, automation is key to managing international and large scale campaigns. While a number of AdWords scripts have saved time and improved performance in the past, ad customizers don’t require any JavaScript. These are feed-based and are simply uploaded into AdWords business data, then pulled into the ad from the parameters set in the ad copy.

Okay, it’s not quite that simple, but when done correctly can be a big time-saver. We know that ad customizers are not new to AdWords, but they have recently become much more powerful and exciting. Yes, these things excite us PPC geeks.

Released in September 2014; ad customizers gave us the ability to add countdowns to our ads, add customer parameters, and manage multiple inventory sales. Below are some of our favorites:


Countdown Function

The countdown function creates a sense of urgency in the ad copy.


What the user will see:



The main challenge has historically been finding the right balance between the user relevancy and account management efficiency. With this feature, we can customize ads by user location. This is especially useful when working on a tight budget, as a highly granular location targeted account structure is time-consuming to manage.



The release of Expanded Text Ads took away our ability to have device specific ads, but by using the device preference function, we will regain control of which ads show to users on mobile or non-mobile devices. It can become tedious to maintain this on a spreadsheet so an alternative will be to use the new IF function.

{=IF(device=mobile,text to insert):optional default text}

Unfortunately, the tablet is still the ugly step-child of devices, but we hope that tablets will also get some love from ad customizers in the future like they did with bid adjustments by device.


Audience Lists

Also using an IF function, ads can be customized to your various audience lists, such as users at various stages of the buying cycle.

{=IF(audience IN(<userlist1>,<userlist2>),text to insert):optional default text}

This will eliminate the need to have a number of ad groups targeting each audience separately. Hooray!


What do we think we should look out for next year?

Over the next few months going into 2017, AdWords is rolling out new features which will make our ads highly relevant to the targeted audience. The introduction of default values when referencing custom values in your Business data feed means that you will no longer need a static ad to run alongside your customized ad. The new IF function will allow you to insert customized messaging in your ad based on your audience and device. This cannot happen soon enough! Look out for the feature in your account by editing one of your ads and adding a “{“. A drop-down will appear with the available features.

The possibilities are wondrous and we wait with baited breath for the IF function to be rolled out in the New Year. You can also read more about the technicalities of ad customizers on AdWords Support and the Google Ads Developer Blog.

The merging of Merchant Centre and AdWords

Shopping campaigns, that power the product listing ads, are currently run in two systems – the feed with all product information goes into Google’s Merchant Centre (GMC) and then linked to AdWords where a specific campaign type (Shopping Campaigns) then manages the serving of the ads and bids.

Which is as clunky to manage as it sounds – why have two interfaces to manage one ad type? Getting access to both systems for new clients tends to be a hassle and there are inevitably occasions when we have to jump between both platforms to achieve our goals.

What do we think we should look out for next year?

Google have tipped the two systems to be merged, and next year seems like a good time to do it. As an advertiser, having all the data at your fingertips and intuitively served in front of you is the best way to really get inside the account and understand its subtleties. That’s how to get those extra bits of value that are vital.

At Jellyfish, we imagine Google has future plans for Shopping Campaigns, integrating it further with other platforms like YouTube where you can now serve product listing ads embedded with relevant videos.

This begs the question what other functionality can they wrap up in this predicted change? Why stop at just products? Google have experimented with credit card, new car and flight price comparison by white labeling solutions from other providers embedded in the SERPs; why not go the whole way and create one overarching price comparison infrastructure and each advertiser in each industry can pick and choose the one that’s relevant to them?

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