How Google’s Rising Trust in Machine Learning Affects Ad Buys

Google recently announced two significant changes to its Google Ads policies. Both reflect Google’s increased trust in machine learning to optimize performance over time. Each promises better performance, but each requires practitioners to adjust their habits in order to make the most of them.

The first change involves close variants. In the beginning, Google’s engine rolled out close variants on exact-match keywords, so that your keywords would be eligible for queries with essentially the same meaning.

The most common types of close variant are misspellings, spacing errors, and plurals. It makes sense for Google to allow such variants, because a slight misspelling or plural of a keyword likely has the same meaning as the keyword you have in your account (“router” vs. “routers”). Adding close variants increased the potential number of impressions your keyword could show, with minimal change in user intent.

Last year, Google announced that exact-match close variants were no longer limited to these grammatical variants, but also included same-meaning queries. This was a huge shift for many advertisers, making extremely granular exact-match keyword footprints less important. Google’s machine learning took the liberty of connecting keywords with queries. Recently Google began applying that “same meaning” definition to phrase and broad match keywords.

The second major change involves accelerated delivery. Traditional Adwords campaigns offer two budget-delivery settings that can be applied to campaigns. The first is standard delivery, which essentially tells Google, “I’m trying to spend my money evenly over the course of the day.” Accelerated delivery instructs Google to spend the daily budget as quickly as possible.

You may wonder why an advertiser would want to use Accelerated Delivery.  In a couple of use cases, the option comes in handy:

Incremental: Marketing can often turn into a last-ditch effort toward the end of a financial quarter. Using accelerated delivery and increasing campaign daily budgets has long been an effective way to spend a lot of money in a short period of time. If you’ve ever had a boatload of money dropped on your lap in the last week of the quarter, you were probably glad to use accelerated delivery on your campaigns.

Share of Voice: Prior to the release of target impression share bidding, accelerated delivery was an extremely effective tool for maintaining a high share of voice, particularly on brand campaigns. Of course, marketers would have to identify the optimal daily campaign budget to meet their impression share goals. However, advertisers could be confident that Google would show their ad as much as possible if they used accelerated delivery.

On 7 October, Google removed the option for accelerated delivery.

Machine learning is at the heart of each of these changes. Adding the “same meaning” definition to phrase and broad match modified keywords — which inherently makes you eligible for a wider range of queries than exact-match keywords — indicates that Google is letting its machine learning determine the queries that are relevant to your business.

There are so many automated bidding strategies available now (including a budget-based bidding strategy available in SA360) that advertisers no longer need to rely on delivery method to meet their goals. Instead, we can trust that machine learning will show our ads at the optimal times, based on the parameters we set. The release of target impression share bidding essentially solves for the share of voice concern mentioned previously.

So What Should You Do?

Based on these changes, here are five recommendations for making the most of these changes:

  • Don’t Freak Out: Google isn’t trying to wreck your performance with these changes. To the contrary, it expects the close variant change to bring an additional 3-4% more clicks on the same keywords you currently run.
  • Plan Ahead: While you may be able to leverage target impression share in short periods of time, the removal of accelerated delivery will inevitably make it more challenging to spend significant amounts in short periods of time. Flight your budgets more evenly, communicate with your business teams to better anticipate incremental, and have a couple of testing initiatives in your back pocket, so that the pressure of incremental budget doesn’t land solely on BAU campaigns.
  • Mine Your Queries: To better understand the impact of the close variant rollout, be sure to check the search terms to which your keywords are matching. If, like me, you sometimes let search query mining slide down your priority list, now’s a good time to put in place a process (scripts, reminders, etc.) that will help you become more diligent. Advertisers need to understand the queries that Google now finds most relevant to their business.
  • Prioritize Exact Match Campaigns: If you are concerned about the wider range of queries for which your keywords are now eligible, prioritize your budget toward exact match keywords. At DWA Media, one of the criteria we use to organize campaigns is match type. If you want more control over the queries against which you’re spending your budget, ensure you are not limiting your budget on exact match terms.
  • Get Familiar With Automated Bidding: If you are still utilizing manual bidding, I pray for your soul. Automated bidding has advanced so much over the past five years that all advertisers should be able to find a bidding strategy that accomplishes their marketing objectives. If you used to use accelerated delivery to maintain branding campaigns, it’s time to test the target impression share bidding strategy.
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