In my previous blog, I gave my thoughts on Google’s smart bidding features, and the risk of being heavily dependent on automation in its current form when managing paid search accounts. Since then, Google has made several changes which limit the way PPC accounts can be manually managed, read on to find out why.
When I first began working in PPC over 5 years ago, average position was a key metric that heavily influenced the way in which accounts were managed. Average position was a factor in the overall account strategy, as well as having an impact upon daily optimisations ranging from keyword bids, competitor analysis and even the choice of ad copy and extensions. However, on the 30th September 2019, Google removed an advertiser’s ability to see the average position metric.
Google claim that advertisers will not lose any visibility on performance if they utilise the alternative position metrics, ‘search top impression rate’ and ‘search absolute top impression rate’. These indicate the percentage of impressions and impression share an advertiser’s ad receives in the absolute top (the first ad at the very top of the page) and top of page (above the organic results) ad slots.
Although average position has provided valuable insights to advertisers over the years, its removal is far from the end of the world. However, I believe that this is yet another step in Google Ads’ shift to focusing on automated bidding strategies and machine learning. Given that we will no longer be able to manually adjust our bids to appear in positions 2 or 3, we will have to rely on specific bidding strategies, for example ‘Target Impression Share’ or ‘Target Search Page Location’.
In addition to the removal of average position, on the 14th October 2019, Google removed our functionality to use ‘accelerated delivery’. This feature allowed us to spend a set daily budget as fast as possible, rather than pacing it throughout the day. I know many PPC managers who used this functionality religiously across a variety of clients, with specific goals in mind which benefited from this strategy. On a personal level, I used this delivery strategy for bespoke campaigns such as flash sales, Black Friday campaigns and University Clearing campaigns, basically whenever I wanted to push a specific message, for a short period, in a highly competitive environment.
Google argues that:
“Accelerated delivery didn’t help in better utilization of budgets. Campaigns limited by budget and using accelerated delivery, likely see higher average Cost-per-click (CPC) due to the higher auction pressure in the early hours.”
This may be true, however in my own opinion this should ultimately be the advertiser’s decision, depending on whether the ROI allows the inflated CPCs to be worthwhile.
Let’s take university clearing as an example…
On A-level results day the vast majority of the 130 Universities in the UK bid aggressively on clearing related searches. In August 2019 over 17,000 individuals were placed at a UK University through the clearing process, each of these will pay £36,000 in tuition fees to the University. With this in mind, I have utilised the ‘accelerated delivery’ functionality to ensure my client is present in the majority of relevant searches during key periods, with the value of each lead being worth the inflated CPC’s, due to the huge lifetime value of any conversions made. This bidding strategy has driven incredible results for a variety of University clients over the past 5 years, however next year I will have little choice but to use one of Google’s automated bidding strategies.
In my opinion, neither the removal of the average position metric, nor accelerated delivery is game changing for paid search, however it does confirm that Google is leading advertisers down a path of forced automation. It’s giving advertisers less control, and less opportunity to obtain a healthy blend of all performance metrics. By pushing us towards having to use automated bidding strategies if we want to achieve certain campaign objectives, it’s encouraging tunnel vision towards a single metric, rather than having a well-rounded account. These changes are not making the job of a PPC Manager less manual, it’s simply giving advertisers less control in certain areas.
Of course, this is just a prediction and I’m sure more changes will come but it’ll be interesing to see the long-term impact for marketers and their clients.