Top Google Ads & PPC Trends for 2022

How will new data privacy guidelines, machine learning advancements, and other important trends affect Google Ads in 2022? In this blog post, we detail eight trends to keep an eye on as you plan your paid search strategies for the coming year.

Top Google Ads & PPC Trends for 2022

Google Ads is changing so fast it can be difficult to keep up. We’re seeing the advertising platform shift toward a far greater emphasis on machine learning and automation. Responsive search ads (RSAs) are now the default. Google now uses BERT to determine keyword prioritization. They’ve doubled down on automation for display campaigns by consolidating smart display and standard display.

As 2022 rounds the corner, it’s time for digital marketers to lean into these new Google Ads capabilities. Let the machines do what they do best (bidding, testing, and optimization around data points), so you can do what you do best (research, customer insights, creative, competitive analysis, and strategy).

 

What the Digital Advertising Landscape Looks Like

Research from eMarketer predicted an 18 percent increase in total media ad spending for 2021, a prediction that seems to be bearing out:

 

The Google Ads Trends That We’re Tracking

By and large, digital marketers continue to invest in digital ads to reach and engage consumers, of which Google Ads is a central cog in the machine. As you plan for your 2022 Google Ads strategy, here are a few trends to keep in mind:

1. Shift from Efficiency to Effectiveness as the Google Ads Model
2. New and Ubiquitous Data Restrictions
3. The Growing Need for First-Party Data
4. The Power of a Compelling Offer
5. Keyword Research Is Still Your Foundation—But That Will Change
6. Conversion Rate Optimization to Stay Competitive
7. AI Will Have its Place in Digital Advertising
Conclusion

 

1. Shift from Efficiency to Effectiveness as the Google Ads Model

Too many advertisers are dependent on efficiency (that is, low cost per lead) rather than effectiveness (campaigns that generate actual new customers and revenue). Smart advertisers are realizing they need to not just focus on the numbers of leads (forms and calls) their campaigns are generating.

We’ve worked directly with many teams who balloon their ad budgets by generating lots of poor-quality leads at low conversion rates.

To win, advertisers need to keep the customer at the top of their minds and the center of their PPC campaigns. Doing so means training algorithms so they know what type of conversion actually results in a new customer. With regard to Google Ads, you have two options:

  • Directly integrate your CRM with Google Ads (most common)
  • If direct integration is not available, pass data back manually

Interestingly, your higher-quality leads are the more expensive ones. However, as they become customers and generate revenue, the overall customer acquisition costs will trend downwards.

 

2. New and Ubiquitous Data Restrictions

You might have seen that Google Chrome plans to phase out browser cookies by 2023. It’s yet another step toward the era of cookieless browsing. And it’s part of a broader shift toward protecting consumer data. There was the iOS 14 update, which requires that apps get permission before tracking certain user data. Google announced that it’s limiting the data it shares with third parties to remain in compliance with European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

These new data restrictions aren’t going anywhere, and they’re not the last of their kind. For people using Google Ads, new data restrictions significantly shrink the user data you rely on to run efficient campaigns. Still, at least from a people perspective, giving users more control of their own data isn’t a bad thing.

Why not embrace it? These days, brands are finding that customers prefer vendors that protect their data and respect their privacy preferences. There are other ways to target Google Ads without being creepy.

 

3. The Growing Need for First-Party Data

As mentioned, Facebook, Google, and Apple are limiting the data available to digital advertisers. However, it’s perfectly legal, ethical, and acceptable to use first-party data. This is data that you’re marketing team is already collecting, including:

  • Names and email addresses of people who fill out forms or contact you through your website
  • People who’ve registered an account, made a purchase, etc.
  • Existing clients, customers, partners, or leads

Various marketing activities feed first-party data into your customer relationship management (CRM) solution). Lead generation forms on your website (eBooks, webinars, etc.) are the most common. However, you can attain first-party data using Google Ads, chatbots, and even newsletter/mailing list sign-ups. You can also use Google click IDs based on how people arrive at your website.

Gather First-Party Data
Requesting information from lead generation forms on your website can help you gather first-party data.

A lot of that will involve your website and marketing channels—really any MarTech and related processes you already have in place. As to where you send, store, analyze, and leverage that first-party data, here’s some of the key pieces:

  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
  • Data Management Platform (DMP)
  • Analytics and Reporting Tools (Google Analytics, for example)

Beyond generating and storing first-party data, you’ll also want to make sure you have the integrations in place between various systems so you can extract, share, and act on the insights you need. Many organizations now rely on comprehensive data orchestration platforms that bring all of these technologies and processes together so the ads team (among others), can get what they need.

First-Party Data and Google Ads

You can use all of this useful first-party data to improve your Google Ads campaigns. One of the most effective ways to use first-party data is for triangulating intent. Let’s take the leads generated by your latest gated white paper. Based on title, organization, and other information that each person surrendered to download the asset, you can build a campaign that provides relevant content and information based on those particular needs.

If the white paper is about using chatbots to improve service experiences, for example, you can reasonably conclude that some of the recipients have a need related to chatbots. Knowing this makes it much easier to move these prospects through the funnel time ads, content, and nurture campaigns.

 

4. The Power of a Compelling Offer

As data access shrinks and precise targeting becomes less precise, advertisers are realizing they need to go back to the basics. That means refining their offering.

With Google Ads, you’re not advertising a conversion; you’re advertising something of benefit to your audience. At least that’s the idea. So, what’s your offer? Review and examine your offers consistently. Look at which offers are converting and which could use an update. Are you accounting for seasonality, audience fatigue, new competitors, changing consumer behavior, and other variables?

Compelling Google Ads Offer
Remember: the offer you release on Google Ads must benefit your audience.

 

People can change their preferences in an instant. The same goes for the information and signals you get from your customers and performance data. While top-of-funnel offers are all well and good, you’d be wise to build offers that bring value across your marketing funnel.

That includes transitional offers that furnish consumers with valuable information, especially for high-consideration decisions (healthcare, for example). You’ll want to build out bottom-of-the-funnel offers, too. One good example of a bottom-of-funnel offer is a customized quantitative impact statement—“what your savings will be if you work with us,” in other words.

 

5. Keyword Research Is Still Your Foundation—But That Will Change

With data availability and audience targeting dwindling, digital advertisers need to do the research if they hope to reach the right people. Keywords are still the beating heart of PPC advertising. This is why we’re seeing such a renewed focus on deeply understanding customers and how they search for information, solutions, products, etc.

This echoes our overarching theme: advertisers need to do what they do best, which is conduct research, dig into consumer behavior, and develop overarching messaging strategies.

There are a variety of keyword strategies that drive conversions. The easiest one is to listen to what your customers are telling you. What language are they using when they engage with your social media channels, chatbots, or customer service team? What about your ratings and reviews? Where are they going for information? Data from forms, comments, surveys, chats, and support all constitutes first-party data that are most useful for Google Ads.

You can also use call analytics/call tracking software to listen to how people ask for help. These solutions can use powerful machine learning to map keyword language and identify trends that might help you understand how consumers are searching online. Finally, don’t forget to monitor forums and communities. Listen in on your own community, as well as popular online communities like Quora and Reddit.

A Peek at Keywords and the Future of PPC

While the keyword is still the foundation of PPC strategies, we do anticipate that their role will deteriorate and it’ll lose its place in digital advertising. Google retired the broad match modifier option in 2021, and that’s just the beginning. Similar to what happens in Performance Max campaigns, we’ll continue to see the keyword disappear. Instead, advertisers—or rather machines—will target based on signals from the system and serve ads to the audience that has a higher probability of converting. Our Director of PPC, Alex Kemp, says

“I think it’s going to be a keywordless world, any minute now, and it’s going to be even more important to get ad creative right. To get your first-party data right. To really build that relationship between you as a manager and Google as a machine and get that in a right place to continue to drive the same performance that you’re typically driving with the keyword.”

 

6. Conversion Rate Optimization to Stay Competitive

Friction is the fastest way to degrade the conversion rate on your ads. Friction can come in the form of steps or processes that are difficult to navigate (forms that aren’t mobile-optimized, for example). It can also come from disjointed experiences (a user clicks through to a landing page that doesn’t have anything to do with the ad, for example).

While we’re on the topic of mobile optimization, this is a great entry point into CRO. Conversion rate optimization is all about optimizing every step of the funnel to improve conversion rates (and reduce the cost of conversion). Take mobile optimization: 58 percent of smartphone users feel more favorable toward companies whose mobile sites or apps remember who they are and their past behavior. And more than 1/3 of smartphone users will immediately go to another company’s site or mobile app if they don’t get what they need.

If you’re wondering why your ads aren’t converting into new customers, hiccups in your mobile experience might be a good place to start. Of course, mobile optimization is just one way to improve ROI for ad campaigns:

  • Use social proof, such as testimonials, reviews, and endorsements. Trust matters more than ever.
  • Optimize for each stage in the funnel. Otherwise, the experience is too disjointed.
  • Use motivational CTAs, a la “Start building lasting wealth with one phone call.”
  • Be clear and concise. Distill your primary message and trim unnecessary words.
  • Build relevant hierarchies that guide people to conversion without too much effort.
  • Personalize where you can. Match page content to the ad that drove the user to it, for starters.

Systematic UX testing and CRO can vastly outweigh potential improvements from media optimizations, especially for mature ad accounts. We’ve seen conversion rates increase by 100, 200, and even 500 percent from simple CRO fundamentals. All you’re doing is acquiring the same volume of conversions with far better efficiency.

Generally speaking, your approach to CRO will break down into two parts:

  1. The audit and roadmap, during which you’ll conduct quantitative and qualitative research from Google Analytics, Mouseflow, reviews, and so on. During this stage, you’ll form hypotheses based on research and current treatment, then add to the roadmap.
  2. Testing your treatment in the testing platform and putting it through QA. Running the experience through a testing platform and reporting on testing progress. At this stage, you’ll analyze the data, provide a test wrap-up analysis that details variant performance, and run follow-ups and adjust the testing roadmap as needed.

As you dig into CRO, think about the entire journey from ad to conversion. We typically find many opportunities to test and optimize the experience for improved conversions. Here’s our own Rich Briddock on CRO:

“User experience and conversion rate optimization are definitely becoming more prevalent. I think that’s an increased catalyst for the need to do CRO because chances are, at least one of your major competitors will now be implementing it. Obviously, you don’t want them to have a competitive advantage over you and be competing on an unfair playing field.”

For a more in-depth conversation about CRO, check out Ignite Digital Podcast Episode 11: Intro to CRO: How Understanding Human Behavior Can Improve Conversion Rates.

 

7. AI Will Have its Place in Digital Advertising

Gut-check time. Too many marketers and agencies resist leaning into machine learning and AI tools because they’re scared of being replaced. At Cardinal, we’re firm believers in letting AI do what it does best, and people do what they do best. If you’re not embracing AI-powered advertising, you need to start. There’s just too much opportunity here to pass up.

Here’s what Mike Kaput of Marketing AI Institute has to say on the matter:

“Performance optimization is one of the key use cases for AI in advertising. Machine learning algorithms are used by commercially available solutions to analyze how your ads perform across specific platforms, then offer recommendations on how to improve performance […] In some cases, these platforms may use AI to intelligently automate actions that you know you should be taking based on best practices, saving you significant time. In other cases, they may highlight performance issues you didn’t even know you had.”

The Google Ads platform is increasingly relying on machine learning to serve ads to the right audience, automate bidding, and provide automation optimizations. We’ve used AI to target audiences more accurately, predict click-through rate (CTR) and conversions, and guide decisions around campaign creative and messaging.

AI Bidding Strategies
Automated bidding strategies take the heavy lifting and guesswork out of setting bids to meet your performance goals.

Google Smart Bidding, for example, can use machine learning to automate bid strategies, reduce advertising costs, and decrease manual input significantly. Here are some other benefits:

  • Reduce cost to serve display and search ads
  • Meet efficiency and volume goals more reliably
  • Optimize ads against revenue goals
  • Pull out certain locations for incremental budget adjustments
  • Adjust strategy for underperforming channel

Then, of course, there are responsive search ads (RSAs). With RSAs, all your team needs to do is craft some outstanding variations for headlines and descriptions, then let the platform’s algorithm serve up the right combination dynamically based on thousands of signals. It’s a great way to boost performance and improve ROI.

 

At the end of the day, however, machines cannot replace human ingenuity and creativity. They can’t gain insight into a person’s motivations and challenges the way people can. And they can’t define your unique selling proposition or make decisions on how to communicate it as effectively as you can. On AI and the future of digital advertising Rich Briddock shares that:

“With smart bidding, Google can bid better than you, so don’t do it. Don’t do it because you’re not the best at it, but you’re the best at refining the UX on a landing page experience. You’re the best at crafting this amazing ad copy. Do what only you can do, but don’t try to fight against machine learning and these improvements that Google is bringing in, where they’re actually superior to us. There shouldn’t be hubris. You should ride with it and don’t try to fight against it.”

 

8. Google’s Good, Bad, and Ugly Future

“The good news is that it’s possible to improve privacy while still delivering business results.” That’s Jerry Dischler

Vice President/General Manager of Ads writing for Google. In this Google Marketing Livestream, Dischler details several ways that advertisers can get more from the data they do have, including:

  • Responsive search ads
  • Broad match keywords
  • Smart bidding
  • New Performance Max campaigns (in beta)
  • Target CPA bidding

As Dischler points out, you can now use Target ROAS in Discovery ads and Video action campaigns “to drive product discovery and purchases.” It’s yet another form of automation that might help you improve conversions. Of course, all of these developments are something to keep an eye on, especially if you rely heavily on Google Ads.

What Dischler doesn’t mention—for obvious reasons—is some of the controversies around Google Ads.

The Jedi Blue scandal revealed a scheme between Facebook and Google to rig (and effectively dominate) the ad business and auction process. A terrible look, one that smacks of antitrust issues.

Then there’s the emerging evidence that indicates that Google ad exchanges are rigged so that Google wins on bids where they aren’t the highest bidder. Advertising executives aren’t exactly thrilled about allegations of bid rigging.

Finally, we’ve seen Google’s strategy characterized as a “walled garden.” In many cases, the company forces logins with the Chrome browser, for example. They also make it quite cumbersome for people who want to leave their ad exchanges.

It will be interesting to see how these controversies unfold in 2022 and beyond—and what effect they will have on digital advertisers that rely on Google Ads.

 

In the End, It’s People, People

Take a look at the eight trends we’ve covered in this blog post. Whether we’re talking about data privacy, keyword research, or anything else, it’s people that we’re ultimately appealing to. It’s people running Google Ads and people clicking on them; for digital advertisers to be successful, it’s best if they take the time to get to know their audiences.

When people and their needs are the starting point for your digital ads strategy, the rest tends to take care of itself.

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