When Google revamps its platform, the ramifications shape the entire marketing landscape. Google’s latest product roadmap, unveiled at Google Marketing Live 2019, charts the future trajectory of search and its role in retail marketing. Google’s revelations focused on three core themes: product discovery, marketplace expansion, and search intent. All three are areas where Google intends to expand its footprint in order to better compete with rivals like Amazon and Facebook.
Google wants to help marketers reach customers earlier in the purchase funnel. New releases like Gallery Ads, Discovery Ads, and the expansion of Showcase Shopping emphasize product discovery and inspire shoppers. Many of these new and expanded ad formats appear across Google properties including YouTube, Gmail, and Google Maps, increasing opportunities for discovery and inspiration.
The new ad formats also put Google in more direct competition with social platforms like Facebook and Pinterest which provide highly visual ad experiences and drive upper-funnel activity. The onus is on retailers to supply rich creative assets in order to take advantage of these new formats.
Google also announced platform updates that increase competition with Amazon. One of the most important announcements from the event is the merger of Google Shopping and Google Express/Shopping Actions. The combination brings together Google’s ad platform and marketplace, while giving greater prominence to Local Inventory Ads.
On the combined platform, called Google Shopping, shoppers can search for a product and then decide whether they would like to purchase it on the retailer’s site, check out on Google, or find a local store selling the product. Uniting previously siloed experiences, this merger allows Google to compete with Amazon as a marketplace and defend its advertising market share.
Google plans to leverage its machine learning technology and cross-channel insights to understand consumers’ search intent and surface the most relevant ads. Google determines search intent from consumers’ past site visits, app downloads, videos watched, and map searches. These signals will help Google deliver Discovery and Gallery Ads to the most relevant audiences. Google’s search intent capabilities enhance its audience targeting, making it more competitive with Facebook.
Updates to Watch
Google Shopping & Google Express Merge
- What It Is: Google is combining its properties Google Shopping and Google Express into a single shopping platform. It provides shoppers more choice in how they purchase products. They can choose to purchase from the retailer’s site, buy on Google Shopping, or buy from a local store.
- Why It’s Important: Google is hoping to spur investment in Google Express, which is a commission-based model rather than pay-per-click. The marketplace may help retailers reach new audiences, but there are significant drawbacks, including loss of branding and control over advertising. In a combined platform, retail marketers’ budgets may shift from Google Shopping to Google Express. For more insight on Shopping Actions/Google Express, read Sidecar’s complete Point of View on the topic.
- What It Is: Gallery ads are visual ad units that appear at the top of the mobile SERP. Consumers can scroll through four to eight images, and retailers can add a maximum of 70 characters to each image. Swipes on these image ads count as clicks, which could drive up CPCs for retailers.
- Why It’s Important: Gallery Ads are like a visual expanded text ad. They provide marketers greater opportunity to engage shoppers and stand out in the SERP. The ad format is worth testing as it may increase brand exposure and product discovery. This could be especially valuable for retailers who are launching a new product line or looking to build their brand.
- What It Is: Discovery Ads are an automated campaign type that displays image ads within the Google Discover feed. The ads also appear on YouTube and in Gmail’s social and promotions tabs. In order to use Discovery Ads, marketers must create a Discovery campaign and upload ad copy and creative assets. Google tests and optimizes combinations of copy and creative using machine learning, similar to Responsive Search Ads. Discovery ads take into account past site visits, app downloads, videos watched, and map searches to deliver the most relevant ads to consumers.
- Why It’s Important: Google is trying to reach shoppers earlier in their shopping journey with this image-heavy ad format. Discovery Ads also leverage intent metrics to deliver ads to the best audiences possible. Discovery Ads may help retailers reach new customers whose search behavior indicates that they are considering a potential purchase. Reaching these customers earlier in their shopping journey may help retailers outperform their competitors.
Showcase Shopping Ads Expand
- What It Is: Launched in 2016, Showcase Shopping Ads serve more relevant ads for generic searches by highlighting a selection of products. This expansion will syndicate Showcase ads to other areas in the Google network including Google Images, YouTube, and the Discovery Feed. Showcase campaigns will automatically be opted into these new networks as of July 15.
- Why It’s Important: Google has steadily expanded the presence of Showcase ads in the SERP. Google claims that 80% of clicks on Showcase ads are from new-to-site users. Showcase click volume continue to rise, though the expansion to new platforms means the ad format shouldn’t eat into existing shopping campaigns.
Maximize Conversion Value
- What It Is: Expanding on Maximize Conversions, Maximize Conversion Value is an automated bidding tool that allows retailers to optimize campaigns to values like sales revenue or profit margins. Google then sets bids based on these targets to drive the greatest possible return.
- Why It’s Important: Google continues to automate campaign management, which is appealing to some retailers with limited time or experience to manage their own campaigns. But many of these tools sacrifice transparency into the campaigns themselves. Retailers have no way of knowing what particular query or bid drove the greatest results for a given product. With these solutions, retailers lose their campaign data and rely fully on Google to optimize their marketing. Automation is best used as a means to analyze massive data sets, help make decisions off that data, and free people from tactical tasks that can be accomplished faster and more accurately by a machine. Automation can’t replace human experience and creativity that’s critical to devising and executing successful marketing strategies. Ideally, retailers should combine the best aspects of automation with human expertise.
- What It Is: Google is giving retailers who use Smart Bidding tools more control over seasonality bid adjustments. For example, if a retailer has an upcoming promotion and anticipates an uptick in traffic, it can schedule a seasonality bid adjustment for that promotion period. Seasonality adjustments are currently available for search and display ads. They will be available for Google Shopping in the summer of 2019.
- Why It’s Important: When Google launched smart bidding, one of the major points of contention was the lack of control and, specifically, the inability to affect change during key seasonal periods and promotions. The new seasonality adjustment feature addresses this concern by allowing advertisers to provide details like start and end dates as well as estimated conversion lift. This should allow Google to both ramp up at the start of a key period, preventing lost revenue, as well as ramp down after a key period, preventing overspend. It is unknown how much weight Google will lend to these inputs in their bid algorithm, but for now it is an olive branch to advertisers who are concerned about the lack of control provided by these automated bidding tools.
Campaign-Level Conversion Setting
- What It Is: Previously, retailers could only set conversion values at the account level. Understandably, not all campaigns within a retailer’s Google Ads account have the same goals. With this update, retailers will be able to adjust conversion values for each campaign. For example, if a retailer has a paid search campaign with the goal of capturing email sign-ups, it can specify that unique conversion value and better track performance. This function is available for search and display ad campaigns and can be applied when using Smart Bidding tools.
- Why It’s Important: Google is giving retail marketers more control over how they value and track conversions. In particular, these adjustments make Smart Bidding tools more appealing to retailers because they have greater control over conversion value and transparency into performance. It’s clear that Google wants to encourage more retailers to use its automated solutions. Despite these marginal improvements, Google’s automated tools still do not provide the granularity and transparency retailers can achieve when developing their own campaign structure and bidding strategy.
In the coming weeks, Sidecar will continue to monitor these new product announcements and provide insight into how retailers can best incorporate these solutions into their marketing strategies. Subscribe to Sidecar Discover to stay up to date on the latest analysis of Google news from our performance marketing experts.