Google Enhanced Campaigns: A Flawed Step in the Right Direction

By now you may have heard the news that Google announced major changes to the functionality of AdWords yesterday with Enhanced Campaigns.  And this is a major change -- probably the biggest change to AdWords in the last five years or so. At a high level, Enhanced Campaigns is a step in a direction RKG has requested a number of times in the past.  Instead of having to duplicate campaigns and keywords multiple times in order to segment certain keyword bids and ad copy, advertisers will be able to apply a bid multiplier to their campaigns based on device type, time, and location, and we will have the option to run different ad copy from the same campaign based on device type. That's all great, and we've been anticipating those changes for a while now, but in gaining these new capabilities and others, we may be losing functionality of greater value.

Not All Tablets Are Equal to Each Other, or Desktops

For example, advertisers will no longer be able to distinguish between desktop and tablets under Enhanced Campaigns.  They will be grouped together by default and irrevocably. Google's announcement of Enhanced Campaigns suggests a reasoning in that, "as devices converge, consumer behaviors on tablets and desktops are becoming very similar." That's generally true.  As we pointed out two years ago, and a number of times since, advertiser conversion performance is very similar between the iPad and desktops.  At that time, AdWords defaulted to grouping smartphones and tablets together in its campaign targeting options.  It was about a year later when Google reversed that and initially allowed targeting tablets as a separate device class. The problem is, not all tablets are converging with desktop equally.  A year ago, we first showed that Android tablets, including the popular Kindle Fire, had far lower conversion rates than the iPad.  As tablet traffic has grown to over 10% of all paid search clicks and the iPad has seen its share slip a bit, drawing the distinction between those two broad tablet categories is no longer inconsequential for many advertisers.  Unfortunately, with Enhanced Campaigns, advertisers will not be able to act upon the clear inferences of their OS-specific tablet data.

Limited Smartphone-Only Options

With smartphones, advertisers face another hurdle with this change to AdWords.  Enhanced Campaigns will not provide an option to run a smartphone-only campaign.  Instead, advertisers will have to tailor their desktop/tablet campaigns to smartphones utilizing the bid multiplier and device-specific copy options mentioned above. For many advertisers, this will be a welcome change that simplifies the management of their paid search program.  For others though, it will decrease the precision with which they segment smartphone traffic. In aggregate, we might find that smartphone revenue per click is say, a quarter that of desktops and tablets on average, but there will be plenty of individual keywords that differ from that average with statistical significance, and we will want to adjust our bids accordingly.  Unfortunately, that will no longer be easily accomplished. While Google has indicated a preference for responsive website design that handles traffic from different devices equally well at the same URL, the reality is that not everyone is there yet, and often we have very different goals and expectations for smartphone traffic. Without the ability to create a smartphone-only campaign, advertisers will not be able to utilize different ad landing pages based on device at the keyword level.  Instead, it appears that mobile landing pages will be ad level, another step back for management precision. Advanced advertisers will be able to find workarounds to scenarios like this, but it will require the type of needlessly complex campaign structures and duplication that we were hoping to be able to move beyond.

The Fix

In the past when we've advocated for a change to AdWords in the direction Enhanced Campaigns is going, our hope was that it would be a purely additive layer that would truly enhance and simplify certain processes. In the area of location targeting, where performance data can get spread very thin, very quickly, Enhanced Campaigns seems to get it about right.  Advertisers gain some abilities without sacrificing existing core functionality. Around mobile, however, it is disappointing that this initial incarnation appears to strip away much of the progress Google has made in the last few years in allowing sophisticated advertisers to segment traffic as the data suggests it should be. If anything, Enhanced Campaigns should have allowed for greater segmentation, not less.  Device type matters, operating system matters, OS version matters, browser matters, etc. and, interestingly, Display-only campaigns will still allow targeting based on most of those areas.

Fortunately, even with the downsides to this change, it could very well be a step in the right direction if Google is willing to address some of these issues and iterate towards a model that not only improves advertisers ease of use, but control of AdWords as well.  Enhanced Campaigns may reduce barriers to entry for some SMBs, but that shouldn't need to come at the expense of experienced AdWords users. We're getting Enhanced Campaigns, maybe Advanced Campaigns can follow.
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