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Google Ads 2020 Product & Feature Announcements: Online Sales

Google announced several key 2020 product announcements today - their third major unveil as part of the Google Marketing Live alternative: The UpdateToday’s announcements were focused on Online Sales, and highlighted improvements across four broad products: responsive search ads, image extensions, Smart Shopping campaigns and responsive display ads. The product announcements give advertisers and users more details, visuals, and specs; providing more automated options to adapt in changing user behaviors.

Adapting for Online Sales

Overall, key online trends emerging from the current pandemic have catalyzed a shift in online opportunities.

  • Consumers are open to buying from new and different brands. People are interested and willing to explore new options and research competitor brands, not just their tried and tested routines.
  • Demand has also shifted – users are seeking different products and services. From an obvious rise in home goods, DIY, food delivery and comfort apparel, to smaller niche shifts iProspect advertisers have reported, like buying lip balm instead of lipstick.
  • People are more comfortable with ecommerce purchasing than ever before. Across all ages, platforms and devices, purchasing online is now part of ‘the new normal’.
  • Similarly, how users purchase goes further than the platform. Options like curbside pickup, scheduled pickup, appointment shopping, contactless payment and longer returns policies are major factors for people making online decisions.
And as always, amongst all purchase decision-making factors, Google found brands that have immediate availability, strong reviews, renowned authority, in short supply and valuable, will be successful in driving online sales. Today’s updates aim to connect people with relevant brands in more dynamic and simple ways.

The Update(s)

1. RSAs become more specific

Responsive search ads (RSAs) have been extensively tested since their launch in 2018, but interestingly until now they have not incorporated many of the personalization options that traditional text ads provide. Now RSAs - Google’s automated text ad selector format - are becoming more specific with several new features to encourage advertiser adoption and user engagement. ‘Location Insertion’ will pull in location targeting and dynamically share the city, state or country in the ad copy. Currently in beta, this launches globally in July and has already proved successful with iProspect brands seeking to engage with people geographically.

Similarly, ‘countdown customizers’ will become available in RSAs. These countdown timers are already commonly used to create urgency on promotional sales, so incorporating these into RSAs is another reason for brands to invest in the Google machine learning powered RSA ad formats.

Alongside these major dynamic ad options, additional RSA features also aim to improve online engagement. Asset Suggestions including shipping offerings like curbside pickup, scheduled pickup, returns policy, and contactless delivery will communicate how potential customers can shop with businesses, and new reporting like Cross-campaign Asset Reporting will make reviewing more assets at once easier. Additionally, Ad strength Optiscore Recommendations will now be available in Google Ads, while Optiscore Recommendations to add new responsive search ads will soon be included in Google Ads Editor to help brands continually optimize.

So, while RSA performance is gradually improving, these smarter automated capabilities equip advertisers with further options, and will make RSAs more competitive and widespread. This will encourage many brands to rethink their RSA usage and test new ways of appealing to users.

2. Image Extensions test a visual component

Fifteen years ago, the search engine results page (SERP) was crammed with text links. Now, the SERP contains a wide variety of rich imagery, knowledge graphs, shopping or vertical specific ad options, and booking forms, which make standard text ads look comparatively archaic. With the official launch of ‘image extensions’ Google is now encouraging advertisers to add images to text ads (including RSA, ETAs) at the campaign or ad group level. This beta is already available and open to a number of advertisers in English, Spanish and Portuguese across most non-sensitive verticals, and once again will encourage engagement and user choice alongside text ads. Google is certainly trying to make this visual format option simple, with a 1x1 aspect ratio upload, and even a dynamic image extension option to dynamically decide the image from keyword or ad final URL.

Ultimately, incorporating images into the SERP is nothing new and has been tested and ‘sunset’ various times in the past fifteen years. More recently, Google has been building rich, engaging ad types in Showcase Shopping, Automotive ads, lead form extensions and Discovery, so this is a welcome addition to core paid search. With another go at images in the SERP, Image Extensions are simpler than ever, but are they here to stay? While it makes sense for brands to dabble in this new product given the ease, success will depend on appropriate images appearing in line with searches, and the user accepting images as part of their usual Google ad search results.

3. Smart Shopping campaigns (SSC) expand their automated boundaries

Retail brands now have more reasons to try automated, multi-platform Smart Shopping campaigns (SSC). Alongside Google search, shopping, display, YouTube and Gmail, SSC will soon open up to many more features. More browsable and immersive shopping experiences’ will be included to unlock more browsing opportunities for retail brands, and videos on Google’s Display Network will soon be widely available to similarly encourage more engagements. Annotations sharing details of fast and free handling and shipping details directly from the Google Merchant Center will be available in the US across SSC and Standard Shopping campaigns, sharing more incentives for people to immediately buy across paid shopping listings.

One interesting development to SSC is new customer acquisition bidding. This should not be overlooked and represents a major opportunity for brands focused on growth and expansion. This option allows advertisers to set a different bid towards new customers, by assigning a higher (or lower) value towards new customers while still optimizing toward online sales or store visits. This is not a campaign segmentation or audience list targeting option, but a way to rely on Google’s machine learning to skew visibility and investment towards new users. iProspect has been an early adopter of this format and found it crucial in brands hoping to grow their customer base and reduce investing in existing users. The technology behind this is through auto-detection (540-day lookback window algorithm determining behavior). However, you can improve new customer matching through a Custom List or by implementing a global site tag. Google also alluded to an app solution for Firebase through an SDK (see previous iProspect blog for other app-based Google announcements). 

For iProspect, expanding SSC into new areas and incorporating more details is a natural next step for the format. It is a clear sign that SSCs are working and Google continues to invest in them. New customer acquisition bidding is particularly interesting – while the means of determining a new customer may not be full proof, it highlights a crucial way for brands to change their strategy towards new customers. New customer acquisition could be expanded to other campaign types (search, discover, local, display) and across other platforms (SA360, DV360), and is an effortless way to lean into new customers. It should not be viewed as a secondary backup metric or a justification for poor ROI, but encourages a growth mindset and a major digital strategy rethink. Brands that are bold and make the business decision to move into new customer growth, will be the top movers in the next 18 months. 

4. Responsive Display Ads become easier

Alongside these search and shopping updates, responsive display ad options are improving. New layouts like smart cropping and background edits will be more readily available. For shopping, feed-based options will provide a new single product design or improved multi product layout for retailers. Both features give the algorithm more options to find the optimum arrangement and products for users to make online sale decisions. 

Even more interesting, Google is now making their auto-generated video product widely available for responsive display ads. These video ads are stitched together from existing campaign assets to create what Google describe as an ‘animated gif’, and once live will serve wherever video ads are eligible.

Generally, responsive display ads have been available for some time, and are not widely used by major advertisers with creative teams and high spec image options. These enhancements are likely to compete with social formats like Facebook’s DPA and, like the initial (The) Update announcement aimed at more local businesses, this is for small to medium size advertisers who want to tweak existing assets and scale across Google’s display platform. Similarly, auto-generated video has been available for specific brands potentially trialing YouTube, so it is clear Google has invested in technology to make this more widely available. Easy and scalable, this may not be for many large brands, but it is a great option for smaller advertisers interested in more plug-and-play options.

Overall, these Update(s) come at a crucial turning point in user behavior. As people have become more comfortable purchasing online, there are now dynamic ways advertisers can make online decisions more seamless. These four key product enhancements make it easy for brands to give people the aesthetics and information they don’t yet even realize they need, to make online purchases.