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PPC Trends: A Half Year Review


July marked the end of the first half of our financial year, so this month we’re taking the opportunity to reflect on the key changes that have occurred in the digital marketing world. Dave, our experienced Head of the PPC team, reveals all that’s been going on in search and looks ahead to what the next six months could bring… Read on for a whistlestop tour of the PPC trends thus far in 2021.

1) So Long BMM Keywords

Broad match modifiers (BMMs) are a Google Ads feature that allow you to put a simple ‘+’ before a word in your broad match keyword – this means that word (or a close variation) has to appear in the user’s search query for them to be served the ad. This allows for more qualified traffic to be served a Google ad. As of February 2021, Google has stopped BMM keywords, putting more emphasis on audience targeting. 

When this change came in our team was quick to respond, pausing all broad match modifier terms after a short period of testing and adding phrases to campaigns to ensure that we continued to qualify the traffic our ads were shown to.

2) Introducing Auto-Applied Recommendations

Just a couple of months after the scrapping of BMM keywords, Google announced the rollout of Auto-Applied Recommendations (AARs) as a new feature of Google Ads. AARs use machine learning to implement changes to a Google Ads campaign, allowing businesses to move faster. There are 35 AI-based ads suggestions that can be auto-applied to an account, mostly looking at the bidding strategy, keywords and extensions – e.g. automatically removing redundant keywords. 

We’ve been selective about the recommendations we auto-apply in order to strike a balance of automating tasks that we know are ok to be changed by Google, but not handing over too much control of the account. Not all campaigns demand the same strategy and each client requires a nuanced approach that can only be delivered by our human specialists.    

3) The Launch of Image Extensions

In May 2021 Google Ads image extensions were released! This allows images to appear in expanded text ads on mobile devices to complement ad messaging. It could be an indication of what’s to come with organic search results…

This announcement from Google really excited the team and we immediately looked at which clients would benefit from the extension. We began testing on some of our property clients, matching images of properties to ads. It is early days in terms of measuring the impact of image extensions on campaigns, however we have already seen an increase in CTRs among our target audience and are keeping a close eye on conversion rates and how we can leverage new PPC developments for our clients’ performance. 

4) RSA Default Ad Format

Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) work to display more relevant ad copy to potential customers. This became the default ad format on Google earlier this year taking over from ETAs (Extended Text Ads). 

How does Google Ads generate Responsive Search Ads? 

RSAs split the Google Ad into various assets (headlines and body copy) so you enter headlines and body copy into the platform and AI will work to combine these and optimise to the best performing combination for a campaign’s goals.

ETAs, on the other hand, use different combinations of headlines and body copy determined by the Account Manager, so RSAs enable a more automated approach to testing ad copy. 

Responsive Search Ads Template 

These ads require a little more thought at the setup stage than ETAs due to the increase in headlines and copy required, but frees up an Account Manager’s time during a campaign as AI does a lot of the legwork, leaving us humans to optimise and perfect! But for the end user, the ad they see is the same. 

We started testing ETAs vs RSAs in Q4 2020 and saw positive results in the early stages, including higher CTRs and lower CPCs. In the first couple of months of 2021, we moved away from ETAs for all our clients in anticipation that Google would favour RSAs and eventually phase out ETAs. It’s so important to stay ahead of the game as the landscape changes so quickly, we’ve constantly got our ear to the ground to make sure we are in the best place to continue to perform for our clients despite platform changes. Get in touch with us if your PPC marketing strategy could do with being more proactive rather than reactive.  

3 Things to Keep an Eye Out for Over the Next 6 Months

What a six months we’ve already had in PPC advertising land, but the fun never stops! Over the next six months we will continue to see Google introduce or put more emphasis on particular aspects of Google Ads which means we must remain ahead of the game and ensure we are prepared for all the changes to come. 

Here’s a few more trends for 2021 that we can already see we’ll be addressing.

1. New Bidding Strategies to Test

Google recently brought target CPA and target ROAS bidding strategies into one strategy called ‘maximise conversions’. This strategy automatically sets bids to help get the most conversions for your PPC campaign. Over the next six months we’ll be working on testing this new bidding strategy against manually setting target CPAs. 

In some cases where clients require strict CPAs, ‘maximise conversions’ strategies may not be appropriate, but for clients with larger budgets and with the flexibility for testing we’re excited to see what this new strategy will bring. It will also help us to make quicker decisions and be flexible with our bid strategy approach.  

2. Google Ads smart bidding/automation

We’ve already seen automation being introduced significantly in the first half of the year with the introduction of auto-applied recommendations and defaulting the ad format to RSAs, and we predict this trend will continue. Google will put more emphasis on smart bidding/automation which involves machine learning to optimise bids to maximise conversions.  

  • Smart bidding vs. manual bidding

Let the battle commence! 

Smart bidding allows us to move to a more simplified approach with our campaign set up to ensure that we can drive maximum conversion volume. In turn, this will make us more efficient and frees up our time to focus on the strategic direction of accounts. With manual bidding a lot more time is spent by the team fiddling in the account – but the flip side is that we have much more control as we are the ones setting the bids for each keyword. 

At Passion we have approached smart bidding strategically to ensure we retain as much control over the campaigns as necessary. We align bids to campaign goals and for conversion bid strategies set a minimum number of 20 conversions per week. This helps us keep control over campaigns whilst having more time to work on the overarching paid media strategy for our clients.  

3. Making use of the Google BETA

As a Google partner agency we can access proposed updated versions of Google. It’s exciting to be able to see what the future of Google might look like and how we can harness the new technologies for our clients. We’ll certainly be looking for these opportunities over the next six months as Google continues to introduce changes at lightning speed. 

That’s a wrap on the PPC trends in 2021 so far and a little taster of what we think is to come next! Get in touch if you think that your brand could benefit from our PPC expertise, or explore our other blog posts for more digital marketing insights.