On October 23, 2020, Google will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its advertising platform. This is an opportunity to come back to this story which has profoundly changed the world of digital advertising but also of traditional advertising. Gone are the days when advertisers only bought keywords to appear on the search engine, which was preparing to become the preferred point of entry for Internet users to access content available on the Internet.
Since 1998, Google has become Alphabet, it is a major player in the digital ecosystem at all levels. Google, Youtube, Android, Chrome, Gmail, Google Cloud, Google marketing platform, Nest, Google TV … Google has become part of the daily lives of people around the world. The practicality of its products and the quality of its services have made it possible to create, retain and considerably develop its number of users. Google’s strength initially lies in the quality of its indexing algorithm, which has enabled it to develop its ecosystem of products and services for users who have found the answers to their needs there.
The diversity, the quality of its products and, for the most part, their free access have enabled Google to create a loyal audience that it has monetized to continue its development and growth. Even today, advertising revenue from Google Ads is more than 70% of Alphabet’s revenue and Google AdSense 13% (source). Google’s dependence on its advertising model forces the company to optimize its model in order to continue to satisfy advertisers around the world but also to continue to maintain this link with its audience.
For Google, there can be no imbalance between advertisers and users: the two segments are interconnected. Quality must be present at all levels to keep the system running. To do this, Google relies on its algorithms and its capacity for technical innovation to offer, on the one hand, high-performance products, and on the other to guarantee profitability to advertisers who ensure its own profitability.
Since its inception Google Ads, formerly Google AdWords, has changed dramatically. Google has changed its approach to its customers (brands) and the way it has packaged its product (users) to seek even more growth. Admittedly, Google has become essential for advertisers who can hardly do without it in their marketing strategy, but the freedom that they initially had is starting to crumble and Google looks more and more like a black box advertising promoting excessive automation limiting human actions to simple marketing management. The power of Google’s algorithms is no longer to be proven, but it will have a definite impact on how we approach advertising on Google in the future.
And Google AdWords became Google Ads
Basically, Google is a machine for eating content in all its forms but mostly textual content. The simplistic interface of the home page, which offers to enter a query to get results, therefore lent itself to the purchase of keywords to position advertisers in front of their potential customers. The choice of “AdWords” is therefore a natural name that demonstrates very well the advertising purchase model that Google makes available to brands. On the first day, Google gave us the key word in the face of internet users’ requests.
Life was simple for traffic managers in 2000. Brands and agencies bought keywords related to their services and products and Internet users saw their ads on search results pages. The only concerns at the moment were traffic volume, click-through rate and cost per click. Google made it possible to target queries more or less precisely according to 3 targeting criteria: “broad”, “phrase” and “exact” targeting.
Until 2005, we had a partner with clear and relatively simple rules. In 2005 Google improved its advertising offer at 2 levels:
- The implementation of the quality score which becomes the regulatory element of the platform aimed at maintaining the relevance of the results of advertising research to its Internet users while motivating its customers to improve their campaigns.
- The launch of the Display CPC offering, which further monetizes publisher sites using AdSense. Once again, this system relies on contextual targeting that matches purchased keywords with content on posting sites.
We are experiencing a first major change. Google is streamlining its offering by sorting according to three major criteria on search (click-through rate, ad quality and page quality) while opening up the use of its keywords outside of its search engine. I am doing this first time marker on these two subjects because, in my opinion, they condition part of Google’s strategy for the following years. Indeed, the arrival of the quality score forces advertisers to respect the rules that Google dictates and display allows it to seek growth using its already very efficient indexing algorithm.
2007 is a pivotal year for the world as we see the arrival of a revolutionary new device: the Apple iPhone. This device launches the era of the nomadic internet which has become the norm today (⅔ of internet traffic is generated via mobile in 2019 in France (source) and 51% in the world (source). This is in 2008 that we can finally decide whether or not to display on mobile devices. At this time, the mobile traffic is not yet representative and the “mobile moment” has not yet arrived but Google is preparing us for it. which will see the majority of internet traffic switched to mobile use will arrive much later in 2016 or 2017 depending on the country.
With Android (acquired in 2005), the display network, the quality score, the queries of its search engine, Google has in its possession:
- the content (display via its network and video via Youtube)
- the intentions
- browsing behavior
- the optimized purchasing method to reconcile users and brands
- conversions through its tracking (AdWords and urchin via Google analytics)
- socio-demographic information via Gmail accounts
It is with all this data that the “made in Google” automation arrives via the e-cpc and helps advertisers to manage their acquisition costs according to signals based on criteria other than the request or the content only. . This model is designed to help advertisers drive more conversions. Yes, but…
The e-cpc was the first brick of auction automation offered by Google AdWords to support traffic managers in their daily tasks. The set of parameters that now enter into the bidding decision are too numerous and humans need to go faster and gain in precision.
This is when Google pushes automatic bids further with the CPA target first and the ROI target second. These two models rely on Google’s algorithms to determine the best bid for a set target. Google knows its Internet users in depth, and it is able to identify the intention factors that trigger a purchase or a contact. The advantage is that the traffic managers set a target and the auctions are automated. The downside is that they lose freedom on strategic keywords that come out of a pure performance context and they no longer control their visibility.
2012 sees the arrival of shopping campaigns in Google AdWords. This is the merchant brick that Google needed to go even further in its value proposition to advertisers. Now he owns the entire value chain:
- among its users by responding to ALL merchant queries
- with its customers by offering a complete range of branding (display and Youtube) through to sale (search and shopping)
Over the years, Google has incorporated new features into Google AdWords and urges advertisers to subscribe to its tools. A little review of the automation parameters that appear in the campaigns:
- ad boosters that better respond to Internet users
- “enhanced campaigns” which offer more successful bidding and targeting possibilities
- dynamic search ads campaigns that no longer require the purchase of keywords and are based on the content of advertisers’ websites
- smart shopping campaigns that automate 100% of bids, targeting and networks for us
- “responsive search ads” which adapt the content of the advertisements even more according to each Internet user
- a new keyword targeting with the “modified broad” match type which improves “broad” targeting which is too volatile for advertisers and increasingly neglected.
- local campaigns that support local strategies in a digital nomadic world
- ad extensions that complement titles and descriptions
- targeting criteria based on audiences (Google Analytics and Google AdWords) to improve remarketing and prospecting strategies on similar users.
Google has always struggled to position itself as an advertising player by its purely marketing and performance nature. The investments made on its platform are all linked to direct performance indicators. This serves its development strategy because with more than 70% of market share (source), it can hardly find new users. This will go through the display network and Youtube.
However, these more “branding” channels do not or little fit in the budget envelopes of advertisers who spend these budgets on dedicated networks via programmatic display players and the inventories of content publishers. 2 actions are implemented to overcome this concern:
- attribution models that give power back to less efficient awareness levers in direct ROI.
- a change in the overall positioning of the brand, which will now be called Google Ads.
Google now knows that conversion is done according to a series of behaviors. The “last click” model, which is required, does not benefit the development of its branding channels. This model fosters a contraction of budgets and prevents the growth of channels other than the search engine. Therefore, different attribution models appear that re-position its other levers. Google, which was already almost omniscient, becomes the right hand of advertisers by deciding for them where and how to invest on its levers to obtain performance.
In 2018, Google AdWords is no longer a keyword platform, it is an advanced multi-network advertising agency that offers products responding to global strategies. The notion of keywords is marginalized. This is the birth of Google Ads in June.
Beyond a simple name change, it is Google’s desire to present itself as a 360 ° advertising agency. The keyword is just an adjustment parameter, a targeting criterion embedded in the multitude of marketing touchpoints available. It is no longer just the content and the request that come first, but the intention and the user behind the screen that is targeted.
The consequences are not all visible. Over the years, Google has developed its offer to make it more complete, but this has made the platform more complex and the company has had to rationalize its tools at the risk of losing advertisers in a labyrinth of features too numerous to be fully mastered. 100%. Google is fighting against a panorama of players (agencies, tools …) who have developed on the bases that the advertising giant had put in their hands. Agencies and advertisers called on SEA experts who needed to understand all of the issues. They had to differentiate themselves from one another on their ability to optimize all of the platform’s parameters. You had to be more expert than your friend next door to win a client and keep him. Advertisers have equipped themselves with tools that help them with these many tasks due to lack of time (traffic managers are generally multi-tasking and multi-lever).
Google Ads is therefore celebrating its 20th anniversary. He has grown up well and is becoming an adult. When you become an adult, decisions become more rational. What was once a giant sandbox has become an airliner cockpit. It has become serious, its interface has become more professional with a more sober design. He makes the decisions alone without his parents (the traffic managers). He has earned his legitimacy in the advertising industry, we listen to him and he is heard. He is sure of the direction he needs to take and is able to leave those who do not follow him on the edge.
Google enters adulthood
In 2018, therefore, Google AdWords became Google Ads, like the emancipation of a teenager who has just turned 18. In 2020, Google realizes its capabilities and the direction it needs to take to continue to grow. The next few lines are only forward-looking reflections that take on the essence of the evolution of the search engine and the advertising model that accompanies it. The future is uncertain but the facts are there and we can make projections on what the future will be according to Google and which we may have to follow.
After opening up all the features available on its platform to everyone, Google tends to close the doors in favor of widespread automation. The argument is: “you don’t have the time or the responsiveness to handle all the marketing signals, focus on the steering, leave the final investment decision to us.”
It is clear that Google’s automated strategies are increasingly effective. First, the auction models. Whether it is automated search and display bidding strategies (target CPA, target ROAS, target impression rate, etc.) or smart shopping campaigns, the job of keyword campaign manager is evolving towards more strategy, more 360 ° vision, less fine-grained campaign management. He loses control of his investments by letting Google Ads make the decision for him.
Second, automation is also about what we buy in Google Ads. Initially the keywords, the placements. Today, Internet users, intentions. The “dynamic search ads” tool which makes it possible to no longer buy keywords but which reconciles the content of the webpages with the requests of Internet users is an automation in itself. With this product, Google makes even more decisions for us, by identifying the right queries against advertiser content. But this tool still takes away from us what has made the history of SEA: mastery of the keyword.
Under the guise of better management through automation, Google is taking away our favorite toys and on which the agencies have been differentiating themselves. Launching a smart shopping campaign no longer gives us control over auctions, audiences, networks. Recent announcements of the removal of some data from actual search terms reports have left us blind to previously identifiable potentials.
So how is the job of SEA account manager changing? How will agencies have to evolve to maintain a relevant value proposition in an ecosystem that limits operational actions? What is left for advertisers as optimization options?
All those who started by managing keywords have seen their profession evolved over the years with notions of display, media planning or even multi-lever strategy. Google is already monetizing radio and TV ads in the USA via smart TVs. France is in the process of changing its position through a decree that should be issued in April 2021 authorizing targeted advertising on TV channels, which is still prohibited today. So we’ll probably see a new optimization network appear in the Google Ads interface later on. We have already seen the “smart TV” device appear in the report segments by device for the past year. The SEA account manager will no longer be an expert employee in paid referencing but will have to take on the role of a marketing advisor.
We have already seen for a few years a merger of expertise between large consulting companies and agencies. On the one hand, we are starting to manage campaigns so as not to let the media budget slip away, and on the other, we are offering more comprehensive and less operational support. Google is setting the tone by confirming this trend through the automation of its ad buying model. The current profiles of traffic managers must be reinvented and future employees, in agencies or with advertisers, must be more “marketing” than producers.
Agencies are undergoing the evolution of Google and must bow to it. The relationships they maintain with governance are governed according to business KPIs but also on a level of adherence to new products, automation and attribution in focus. Through the score of recommendations present in the accounts, Google penalizes more and more those who do not want to follow the movement. However, as this development is sustained and one-sided. Google communicates on these elements by reassuring its partners that it is for the good of all. Agencies are relieved of thankless tasks, advertisers are better served in terms of performance.
To sum up, over time, Google offered all of its features and learned from the uses we made of them. Then he realized that he could do better on his own because all the parameters were known to him. With the CPA target and the ROAS target, he takes control of bidding decisions. With the removal of activation levers (search terms or keywords via DSA), it only gives partial information, forcing advertisers to trust it a little more. But in this paradigm, isn’t Google judge and party? Of course, automatic auction models are effective, but leaving the auction decision to an platform that is remunerated on the traffic generated may suggest that it still maintains a level of security so as not to taint its profitability. Couldn’t we be more efficient by managing auctions with third-party tools that are not indexed on their ability to generate traffic? So what is left for advertisers?
There will remain the agencies which will have migrated towards consulting and media planning and which will be able to offer relevant management tools (auctions, budgets, objectives, reports, analyzes) and which will be able to make the best possible decisions without financial bias. The rise of SaaS tools is one of the translations of this business development because they support production teams while supporting them in the media consulting dynamic. These optimization tools also support the internal teams of advertisers, who see these solutions as saving time and improving productivity.
Understanding the past helps to define the future
All of these developments in recent years have a goal for Google: “better serve advertisers to continue its technological and financial growth”. To answer this the management to modify its functioning. Yes, it seems like automation is good, but human decisions continue to take precedence over how campaign goals are calibrated.
With TV and radio, Google continues to centralize media investments in its platform. This concentration is not going to stop because there is still display, TV and press that are not yet integrated into the Google model. We can arrive at a situation of media monopoly to which we will have subscribed by ease and by losing our capacity for arbitration.
here is no longer branding on one side and performance on the other. Google integrates intent and deed into an overall strategy and we are following it in this evolution. With this in mind, we are already accepting the delegation of campaign management expertise to the advertising partner and, it seems to me that this will continue in the coming years, as Google’s place is growing stronger.
All the ingredients are now there for Google to increase its power in optimizing advertising performance. Like never before, a business has integrated into people’s privacy. The mountain of data at its disposal gives Google an ideal position in the arbitration of advertising investments.
Maybe tomorrow we won’t buy as many keywords (or not at all) as we used to for DSA campaigns that will do the job themselves and combine SEO and SEA content. We will no longer have control over the networks as is already the case with smart shopping or local campaigns. We will only give Google information on the desired budget, the goal set and the destination url to use. We will no longer send products or banners but urls to watch and creative axes with information limited to logos or communication axes.
No one knows what the future will hold, but the current foundations allow us to perceive the maturity of a data giant that it no longer wants to share. We will have to adapt to this by migrating to more support, advice and project management.
At 20, Google still has many good years ahead of it, but its friends can become increasingly rare if our dependence is total.
Another happy birthday, Google, and see you in 10 years for another assessment.