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2020 Google Ads Benchmarks: How Is Google Ads Reinventing Itself?

The following is excerpted from the 2020 Benchmarks Report: Google Ads in Retail. The report, now in its fourth year, analyzes Google Ads data for a representative sample of over 300 U.S. retailers across 14 verticals. Sidecar’s Google Ads Benchmarks Report is the most comprehensive look at Google Ads performance, trends, and strategies for 2020 and beyond. Download the complete report.

Google continues to reinvent its advertising platform, and 2019 was no exception. Google unveiled several new ad formats, campaign management tools, and greater targeting capabilities to help retailers advance their goals and allow Google to better compete with competitive platforms like Amazon, Facebook, and Pinterest. Three major themes dominated these updates: visual marketing, audience targeting and personalization, and automation.

Google Ads Updates Timeline 2019

Visual Marketing

Google announced its most significant visual marketing updates in May 2019 at Google Marketing Live. During that event, it unveiled Discovery Ads and Gallery Ads.

Discovery Ads appear on the Google Discover feed, which is part of Google’s mobile app. These ads feature large, lifestyle images and are targeted to shoppers based on past searches, sites visits, app downloads, and other indicators of intent. The goal of this ad format is to inspire shoppers and help them uncover new products. It also provides a more personalized ad experience within the mobile app.

Discovery Ads Google Ads

Gallery Ads are featured on mobile paid search. They add a scrollable image carousel to paid search ads, allowing shoppers to explore different products retailers offer in a single ad. Google reports that this format drives higher engagement because it drives greater visibility on the mobile SERP.

In order to take advantage of these new ad formats, retailers need to start developing high quality lifestyle images of their products. Developing those creative assets now will help retailers capture shoppers attention early and stand out among competitors.

Gallery Ads Google Ads

Audience Targeting & Personalization

The primary way retailers have targeted shoppers on Google is through search behavior, bidding on keywords that signify shoppers’ intent to purchase. In recent years, Google has developed greater targeting capabilities, allowing retailers to target certain demographics or shopping behaviors. Now retailers have more tools at their fingertips to develop granular audiences and retarget shoppers as they move down the acquisition funnel.

To this end, Google released Affinity Audiences in 2019, which allows retailers to target specific groups by their interests, for example “Do-It-Your-Selfers.” Google then targets ads to consumers based on both demographic information and search behavior that aligns with that group. Today retailers can target over 140 audience groups, and Google continues to curate and refine that list.

These tools allow retailers to deliver more tailored, personalized marketing messages, and provides more opportunities for retailers to reach shoppers they may have missed otherwise.


Over the years Google has introduced greater automation to its platform with features like Smart Shopping Campaigns and smart bidding. There is an important balance, though, that retailers need to strike between human-led strategy and machine-automated tactics.

In the last year, Google introduced tools to give retailers greater power over how automation tools operate and allow them to better align these features with their marketing strategies. Two such updates were campaign-level conversion actions and seasonality adjustments. 

With Campaign-level conversion actions, retailers select which conversion actions they want to see in the “Conversions” column on a campaign level rather than an account level. For example, some campaigns could target lead generation goals, while others consider a purchase as the final conversion action.

Seasonality adjustments work with Google’s smart bidding strategies, alerting Google of anticipated conversion changes during peak business or promotional times. That provides Google’s smart bidding algorithm with more data to set the correct bid at the appropriate time.

Google’s introduction of greater controls indicate that customized automation, in which retailers have the ability to shape the parameters and strategy behind automation, may be the way forward. It is a recognition on Google’s part of a much larger trend in retail marketing, which is that automation must align with retailers unique goals and businesses and is not one-size-fits-all. It’s important to see if the customized automation trend on Google Ads continues into the year ahead.

Read More About Your Most Important Google Benchmarks

Get the performance marketing benchmarks you need for 2020. Download the 2020 Benchmarks Report: Google Ads in Retail and learn about seasonal opportunities that you can take advantage of throughout the year, how you stack up against other retailers in your vertical, and how to navigate Amazon’s growing presence on Google Ads.

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