These days, paid search—or pay-per-click (PPC)—is a staple tactic in most B2B digital marketing plans. That’s logical since 90% of B2B buyers start their buying journey with a search. Paid search growth stagnated across most industry sectors during the peak of the pandemic, but PPC ad spend returned to pre-pandemic levels as of Q4 2020.
Meanwhile, as everyone was biding their time at home, Google was quietly changing the search game (once again) with updates to their PPC platform, Google Ads. It’s important to understand and adjust for these changes as you plan your PPC strategy for 2021. From increased automation to data obfuscation to new (and more visual) campaign types, we’ll review what B2B marketers need to know to create impactful campaigns in 2021.
Google Ads reporting gets more opaque
In September, Google announced they would start limiting search query data, citing privacy concerns. Search query data can be viewed by running a “search terms report” within Google Ads. The report (previously) showed advertisers every query that triggered their ad, even for terms they weren’t specifically bidding on. This is a particularly helpful report for B2B advertisers who want to eliminate terms that may be triggering B2C-focused clicks. Google is concerned that certain keywords may contain personally identifying information that compromises a searcher’s privacy. To avoid this, they are only showing terms that hit a certain volume threshold.
Strategic implications: Google’s search term report helps B2B advertisers eliminate irrelevant and costly keywords from their campaigns. The average cost per click (CPC) for B2B terms was $3.33, according to Wordstream’s latest PPC Benchmarks totals. This is higher than most consumer categories, and it’s just an average—most B2B marketers know that competitive CPCs tend to run much higher than this. To counter this new obstacle, advertisers will need to monitor their search campaigns closely and optimize for leads/cost per ad (CPA) versus CPC. Writing ad copy that specifically and carefully addresses your target audience will also be key. Automation can help you optimize your campaign for effectiveness and efficiency. Let’s take a look at how.
Automation will unlock PPC’s potential for B2B advertisers
Google’s gone all-in with automation for 2021, announcing this past February that responsive ads are the new default ad type for search campaigns. Responsive ads use machine learning to automatically generate the best combination of headlines and descriptions to searchers based on specific user signals (e.g., location, query, device, etc.) This ad type has been around since 2016, but the fact that responsive ads are now the default search ad format underscores Google’s relentless fixation on using AI and machine learning to optimize campaign performance. Google also recommends advertisers use smart bidding to optimize for conversions. Smart bidding uses machine learning to optimize bid strategies based on various goals and targets (target CPA, target ROAS, conversion value and enhanced CPC).
Strategic Implications: It’s all well and good for Google to recommend automated PPC strategies using their own proprietary machine learning algorithms, but from an advertiser’s perspective, the lack of control can be unnerving and unintentionally expensive. Automation saves time and potentially improves efficiency. Even so, we recommend that B2B advertisers test all automated campaign strategies and settings and monitor their campaigns closely using bottom-line metrics like ROAS and ROI.
Generate leads directly from your ads with lead form extensions
Google was a busy bee in February! On February 10, 2021, they announced the addition of a new extension, the lead form extension, which allows advertisers to generate leads directly from their ads without navigating to a landing page. The feature can be activated from the search campaign settings in your Google Ads account. This is a potential boon for B2B campaigns that rely heavily on leads rather than transactions or sales.
Source: Google Ads Help
Strategic Implications: The leads form extension essentially keeps users from clicking through to your landing page or website, but if it generates more qualified leads, then we suppose it’s a win-win (Google wins because they keep the searcher within Google and you win because—more leads!) However, lead forms tied to search ads have the potential to drive lots of unqualified leads or even annoy users, since the form pops up when a user taps the headline of your ad. Thus, test this feature before rolling it out across all your campaigns.
Discovery campaigns add visual elements to search
Google announced the worldwide rollout of Discovery campaigns in June 2020 during their Google Marketing Live summit. Discovery campaigns allow advertisers to run Discovery ads that feature one or more images and assign individual URLs to each image. Advertisers can also include a logo, and up to five headlines and five descriptions. Once the Discovery campaign is launched, Google’s automation engine kicks in, optimizing the ad the way they do with responsive ads. Google introduced Discovery ads back in 2019, but the global expansion of Discovery ads gives B2B advertisers a mobile-friendly, visual way to reach Google’s massive audience beyond keyword targeting. Discovery ads can be targeted using interest, behavioral and demographic targeting.
Strategic implications: Discovery ads appear on mobile devices in the “Discover feed,” which comprises suggested content that appears based on user search activity. Discovery ads also appear on YouTube’s mobile home feed and in the Gmail social and promotion tabs. Once again, Google’s automation kicks in, optimizing ad delivery based on user behavior and other factors. Advertisers cannot refine Discovery campaigns manually (e.g., via manual bid strategies, device targeting, frequency capping, etc.) While this may make some old-school PPC marketers nervous, the goal is to let Google handle the legwork and optimize ad assembly and delivery based on many different factors that are optimized in real time. This is a tactic that B2B marketers should absolutely implement and test because it has the potential to expand your PPC reach far beyond Google’s highly competitive search results pages.
Google is a moving target
We’ve listed some of the most recent and relevant Google Ads updates that we feel will have the biggest impact on your B2B PPC strategy in 2021, but keep in mind that Google is a moving target when it comes to changes and updates. You can keep abreast of Google’s changes via Google’s Features & Announcements blog on the Google Ads Help website.
It’s always a good idea to review your existing campaigns (particularly if they’ve been running for a while) to assess what’s working, test new features and settings, and ensure you’re taking advantage of the latest innovations in ad formats, campaign types and targeting options.
Do you need help setting up your PPC ads? Contact us to learn how Elevation can help!