Google Trends 2021: Smart Bidding, Changes to Exact Match, New Discovery Led Formats and More

By Bethan Rainford - 30 September, 2021
Bethan Rainford 2021

Google and all of its entities are continuously evolving, and the way in which we run our performance marketing channels through these channels has changed considerably over the past year. These changes align with the stark changes in online behaviour brought on by the pandemic, but with the continual roll out of new features, online advertising is more accessible than ever.

The importance of the online experience has accelerated with shifts of inspiration and discovery moving online. With more time now spent online, the opportunity to discover new brands and products online is huge. And it’s for these reasons why the need to adapt and upgrade your Google strategy is of utmost importance.

What have been some of the biggest trends from Google and paid search over the last twelve months?

The Growth in D2C & Brand Discovery

In particular, D2C has seen the most significant growth in the past 12 months as brands stopped relying on wholesale relationships, many of which closed down overnight. These brands shifted towards gaining control over the shopping experience, in order to utilise all the data at hand, to own the customer relationship, and to drive loyalty and repeat purchases.

Google has ensured they capitalised upon this trend with more focus on brand discovery, which has allowed these D2C brands to stand out and become searchable in their own right.

Exact Match Is Losing Importance

Historically it was the golden standard to ensure that at least 60% of your traffic was going through exact match terms. Generally, these terms saw lower CPCs and stronger CVR, and all in all more efficient performance. However, we’re at a point now where users don’t search more but they search differently and continuing with the more structured and granular exact match set up means you are likely missing out on new and incremental searches.

As we all saw earlier in the year, Google sunsetted the use of BMMs (broad match modifiers), now defaulting to phrase match, and I think this is indicative that at some point in the near future, match types will become redundant all together as Google will continue to move towards bidding at the query level above the keyword level.

Over the years, Google has improved the understanding of intent behind users’ queries and as Google puts it: ‘broad match now looks at additional signals in your account to deliver more relevant searches’. Paired with automation and Smart Bidding, adopting broader keywords can now aid in driving more effective performance overall and can improve visibility for new and emerging brands to market.

As we’ve all seen, control we once had over match types has continued to change. I think it’s key to be an early adopter here rather than playing catch-up later down the line. Whilst monitoring fluctuations in traffic levels and key performance metrics will be critical (as these transitions roll out across broader match types), these changes will ensure you are capturing the evolution of the online experience and that your brand is at the forefront during both discovery, research and purchase.

Smart Bidding Is Reaching Maturity

The Vervaunt team has spent a lot of time testing manual approach vs Smart Bidding. Previously we have always found through our testing that our manual approach generally outperformed Google's automation.

However in 2021, we have seen this shift. With improvements across the entire Google ecosystem, increasing our adoption of smart bidding is allowing many of our accounts to grow beyond levels we have seen previously, in addition to providing our team with more time and resources to contribute to client strategy at a broader business level.

The adoption of broad terms has helped to fuel the success of some of our Smart Bidding strategies, providing the algorithms with more data to learn faster. For example, across our search activity we are moving towards the Hagakure approach which sees a combination of DSA and broad keyword ad groups - all run on Smart Bidding strategies. This not only leads to a streamlined account structure for easier management but ad groups which are focused around driving higher impression volumes to feed into the Smart Bidding algorithms.

Whilst there is still plenty of resistance against relying primarily on Smart Bidding, the bottom line is Google is able to factor in a wide and ever increasing range of signals which just isn’t possible from a manual side. As we head into seasonal peak, it’s also more important than ever to use the tools at your disposal.

The key recommendation here would be to test via drafts and experiments, keeping a 50% split where possible and ensure the targets you set for target ROAS or CPA align with your historical performance.

The Evolution of Smart Shopping

Smart Shopping has been one of the standout improvements we’ve seen in the past 12 months. This is a feature we had been resistant to fully adopt, and one that initially was tricky to test as it had the potential to cannibalise standard shopping campaigns.

However, we initially started to see the uptick of this across our clients in the USA and with growing confidence, we began adopting this further across the UK. One client alone saw a 305% increase in revenue and a 615% improvement in ROAS.

One of the main drawbacks we have here though is around the display element, and many luxury brands believe these campaigns don’t tend to be in-keeping with the tone of voice they want to portray. That being said, this will primarily be towards a remarketing audience and there would be few instances where this is the first interaction a new customer has with a brand and the improvements in performance would likely outweigh the downside of this.

One of the developments launched not so long ago is the ability to set CPA goals for new customers. This helps ensure that returning customers aren’t inflating the overall efficiency of the campaigns and you have the ability to ensure you are hitting KPIs at different parts of the funnel, which is important for brands focused on new customer acquisition.

We have also continued to apply our own level of intelligence across Smart Shopping strategies to ensure Google can optimise towards the products our clients value, as there is the risk that the algorithms could optimise towards a low valued product just by virtue of driving sales.

For example, with one client we created a ‘best seller’ and an ‘everything else’ campaign; best seller which would remain uncapped. We created a custom label which dynamically tagged products as a ‘best seller’ based on Google Analytics performance via an API, this ensured we were constantly pushing and prioritising site best sellers, which is data Google wouldn’t natively take into consideration.

New Discovery Led Formats

Discovery ads are one of Google's newest features, and one that clearly opens up the opportunity to reach audiences further up the funnel. This format allows advertisers to show immersive ads to prospects during the time in which they are most open to finding new brands and products.

In addition to YouTube, Discovery ads are probably the key visual format for prospecting across Google, with a similar model to Facebook in which single images or swipeable carousels can be used. With ads in this format also being served across YouTube and Gmail (in addition to the Google discover feed), the opportunity for reach is broad. While you have no search intent behind these, they provide brands with the opportunity to to scale and drive awareness through a new format.

In addition to Discovery ads, YouTube is increasingly playing an important role for brands. Particularly over the pandemic, a user's active time online increased considerably on YouTube and with that brought more opportunities.

Newer formats such as 20-second non-skippable bumper ads, lead generation and maximise lift bidding are just a few examples of the way in which new formats are adapting to the growing complexity of the user purchase journey.

Consultant 2.0 and Driving Additional Value

With all these changes in play, we are heading towards an automated world and therefore it’s more important than ever to address the role of a paid media agency and the need for this role to adapt and diversify.

Gone are the days of time spent on manual bid adjustments, and optimisations. Agencies need to step up and into this new era to prove the additional value they are bringing to their clients.

The pandemic has amplified brands' anxiety for growth, now more than ever, and they expect agencies to play a key role in delivering growth over the next few years. From Veraunt’s perspective we’re actively working towards developing our team and instilling further confidence, with some of the below being just a few of the key areas;

  • Business strategy led - What are the clients key business objectives? How can we go above and beyond to feed into this? Agencies can no longer look at their channels and their channels only.

  • Upskilling across all key channels - What role do channels play and why? How do they interconnect? Pro-actively suggesting new channels to test when the opportunity presents itself. There is no longer a single channel that is going to act as your silver bullet for growth, it’s all about the incremental gains

  • eCommerce direction - Heightened expectations on eCommerce as a key growth avenue is clear. Factors such as internationalisation and multi-market strategies should be considered, and agencies should focus on developing this mindset with the necessary capabilities to deliver customer first strategies across multiple markets.

  • Be forward thinking - Ensuring we are at the forefront of trends and the ever changing digital landscape.

What's Next?

Automation is the clear direction in which many paid media channels are heading, and brands and their agencies need to maximise this or be left behind by the algorithms.

If you found any of these trends interesting and want to discuss, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and have a chat or get in touch at [email protected]

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