Thanks to the fun of Enhanced Campaigns, 2013 was an extremely interesting year for PPC. Google made a ton of changes that we all had to learn to adapt to. Looking ahead to 2014 don’t expect anything as radical again, but there will be some major areas of change for us to focus on:

Ads Will Be More Obvious

Have you seen the orange Google “Ad” images yet? If not, you’ll probably start to see them soon. After an FTC ruling earlier in the year told the major search engines that they had to be more visible about what is an ad and what isn’t, Google has been quietly testing the impact of these changes. I’m interested to see what happens with this. Most likely is that CTRs will dip slightly across the board, in which case don’t expect Google to implement it without a fight. On the other hand, the orange buttons are actually kind of eye catching. We’ll keep you in the loop as results start to trickle in.

Orange ad image buttons in the google search results
Image comes courtesy of @mel66 on Twitter

The Search Results Page Is Getting Prettier!

Or should that be more cluttered? This one really depends on your perspective. We’ve already seen a load of reports about Google testing large banner ads on brand terms. What this tells us is that Google seems to be more open than ever to testing everything and anything that will improve the user experience.

A banner ad for southwest airlines on the Google search page

On top of the above “Visual Search Ads” Google also announced on the AdWords blog that they were experimenting with Image Ad Extensions (see below). By adding these image extensions, not only are PPC ads getting more real-estate (and thus higher CTRs) but they also become much more appealing to the average user.

An ad for Sydney Hotel showing images of sydney

This approach is shown outside of PPC too. You might have started to notice the new aesthetic to a lot of image-based search results using the new black bar at the top of the page:

The black images banner displayed on Google results

We don’t expect all of these changes to be fully implemented anytime soon, but they will start to play a larger role in PPC. Until Google can develop a more efficient way to get through image approvals, it should be slow going.

PLAs Become Even More Important

PLAs are moving from the right hand side of the SERP to the top spots on the left hand side. Not only have PLAs been growing at a huge rate for Google, they’ve also been outperforming regular text ads.

A set of PLA results in the Google SERP for Samsung TVs
Where is your eye drawn here?

What this means for you:

  • More traffic for your PLA campaigns
  • Less traffic for your non-PLA campaigns that bid on product terms
  • Potentially higher CPCs for PLA term as competition increases
  • Managing PLAs will become even more important – make sure you get your feed well optimized and negative keyword strategy in place
  • Expect lots of updates to make PLAs easier to use. We’ve already seen Google Shopping campaigns introduced and if Google has proved anything with Enhanced Campaigns it is their commitment to simplifying things for small advertisers. At present PLAs & feed management can be restrictive to less experienced advertisers.

Check out this blog on Search Engine Journal for a more detailed look at the changes coming to PLAs.

More Forced Integration With Google Services

A few months ago a lot of people on the internet got really annoyed. Pretty shocking right? If you weren’t aware I recommend you read up on the YouTube comment fiasco. Essentially what happened was Google switched YouTube commenting from the old anonymous system to one that requires you to comment through your Google+ account and people did not like it.

This move seems to give a pretty clear indication of where Google is heading – increased integration between all of their services. The two major areas we think this will impact are:

  • Social Extensions will become more important
  • Google Places will become the only option for Location Extensions.

The first of these will push companies to get their Google+ accounts in order. If you look through the state of existing Google+ accounts even for major brands, it’s not always pretty.

The second is something of an extension of the Enhanced Campaigns switch. If you look in your account at the moment you’ll notice that manually entered locations show up under “Not Upgraded” – potentially an ominous sign.

Location extensions tab in Google AdWords showing not upgraded settings

If Google is willing to suffer the backlash of millions of YouTube commenters, don’t expect them to be too worried about a few PPC folk complaining about these things on Twitter either.

The Year Of Mobile Again?

A meme image from the Matrix

If there has been one constant in my 5 years of working in PPC it is that it has, without fail, always been “The Year Of Mobile™” – and I don’t expect anything to change going into 2014. However, I do predict that we’ll actually start to see more advanced mobile PPC strategies develop. People will start to implement better mobile & tablet designed websites in the wake of Enhanced Campaigns and we’ll all start to get better at utilizing mobile’s strengths – information gathering & local searches. Add to this Google’s new cross-device estimated conversion tracking and it seems inevitable that we’ll see growth in mobile and increasing CPCs.

Google Will Push Us To Do A Better Job 

In case you hadn’t heard, Google updated their Quality Score algorithm recently to increase the importance of using Ad Extensions. This means that lazy advertisers who don’t keep up-to-date with new account features and extensions will get left behind.

Why did Google make these changes? The better we maintain our ad extensions, the better their ads look. The better their ads look, the higher click-through rates they generate. The higher click-through rates they generate, the better of a user experience they are delivering (or the more money they are generating – whichever perspective works for you). Expect to see this trend to continue and be excited about it. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re actively engaged with your AdWords account. You might start to see QS bumps and cheaper CPCs come your way against your slow-to-adapt competition.

Exciting things seem to be ahead for next year! As always let us know your big predictions for 2014 in the comments below.