Google Ads has made a big push toward automation, with rapid-fire changes to automated bid strategies and ad types in particular.
While the goal of automation is to streamline and simplify, the constant platform updates can cause confusion rather than clarity.
In this guide, we’ll break down every available automated ad type.
You’ll learn the difference between options and naming conventions, as well as when to use each one, so you can confidently make the best decisions for your campaigns.
Google-Created (Auto-Applied) Assets
First on our list of automated ads are those that Google automatically creates on your behalf, without any input from you.
You may not even realize these ads and assets are running, and they may not be compliant with your branding guidelines, so they’re important to review.
When to Use (or Avoid) Auto-Applied Ads & Extensions
You don’t have to do anything for Google-created assets to run (not even approve them!)
If you’re short on time or need some fresh ideas, you can effortlessly run auto-applied ads to test new messaging. Google states that using additional creative may improve your CTR.
However, if you need tight control over your ad messaging (including regulated industries), you may prefer to opt out of auto-applied ads to avoid the risk of non-approved ads slipping through.
Auto-Applied Ad Suggestions
Your account is automatically opted-in to Google Ad suggestions, which you’ll find on the Recommendations page of your account.
Google may add as many as 50 suggested ads per week (though it will likely be fewer).
With Ad suggestions, Google creates new ad variants for you to approve, edit, or dismiss.
If you do nothing, the ads will automatically launch after 14 days.
Ads that are auto-applied (as opposed to manually approved) are marked as “Auto-applied ad suggestion.”
Ad suggestions are based on existing ads and landing pages, and are generated using “a combination of human review and machine learning.”
To opt out of Ad suggestions at the account or MCC level, follow these instructions.
As with auto-applied ad suggestions, your account is opted-in to automated extensions by default.
However, Google doesn’t notify you of their creation and doesn’t seek your approval before they run. In fact, the actual assets that are featured in the ad are never shown in the interface.
Automated extensions are found in their own tab within Ads, and can include call, message, sitelink, structured snippets, location, seller ratings, and callouts.
Unlike Ad suggestions and many manual ad extensions, you can’t measure or compare performance of automated ad extensions.
The metrics shown in the table refer to performance of the entire ad, not the specific extension type. The “this vs other” segment is not available in this view.
Opting out of automated ad extensions is also a bit more involved than opting out of Ad suggestions. Each extension type is managed separately.
You may have noticed from the dropdown list that one of these extensions is not like the others.
“Longer ad headlines” allows description lines that are complete phrases or sentences to be moved to the headline when your ads are served in the top positions on Google.
You can turn off extensions and longer ad headlines by following these instructions.
Think of responsive ads like a “mix and match” game. You enter in multiple headlines, descriptions, and images, and Google picks combinations of those assets to serve across the Google Network.
Responsive ads are so-named because they give Google the assets it needs to “respond” to different audience intent and formatting requirements.
Users are served uniquely assembled ads based on their search queries, device type, or the ad specifications of the site they’re visiting.
When to Use (or Avoid) Responsive Ads
Google is making a clear push towards responsive ad formats, and marketer resistance may be futile. That said, here are some things to consider while responsive ads are still optional.
First, Google’s premise is that through machine learning, it will essentially “personalize” the right message for each user.
But as Richard Beck – BS, MCIS writes of Artificial Intelligence, “it makes no logical sense to claim you can do something very complex… and you’re 20 years away from something rather basic in comparison.”
Consider how frequently Google makes questionable ad serving decisions. For instance, matching a search for “soft suitcase” to the keyword “software.” Or serving irrelevant ads when better matches were available for a keyword.
Whether Google’s machine learning is lacking or their profit motivations aren’t aligned with yours, it’s a stretch to think that either problem will be solved through using an ad type that gives them even more control.
Additionally, no matter which ad assets are used, each ad is allowed only one final URL. It’s hard to experiment with radically different ad ideas if the landing page can’t match the different messages.
And since each asset has to make sense with every other asset, it can be more difficult to create interchangeable “building blocks” than just writing separate, distinct ads.
All that said, responsive ads can still save you time, and may outperform existing ads. We’ll address the specific advantages of responsive ad types below.
Responsive Search Ads (RSA)
Responsive search ads run on the Search Network, and let you enter up to 15 headlines and 4 description lines in a single ad. Google then selects up to 3 headlines and 2 descriptions to run as an expanded text ad.
You can “pin” your text to position to ensure a specific message always runs in a specific spot.
If you have lines of text that must show in an ad (for legal or branding reasons), be sure to pin to H1, H2 or D1, since H3 and D2 don’t always appear.
If you pin more than one headline or description to any one position, they will rotate.
While RSAs allow Google to run multivariate ad testing, Google does not reveal the results of specific combination tests.
In other words, even if the aggregate CTR is higher with a responsive ad, you don’t know which asset combinations contributed to the lift. You’re also in the dark about the impact of specific messages on conversions.
You do have the option to see the top responsive search ad combinations that ran, but these are sorted by impressions, with no details for clicks or any other metrics.
Responsive Display Ads (RDA)
As of late 2018, Responsive Display Ads are the default ad type for the Google Display Network.
All the automated ads mentioned above are practically indistinguishable from their manual counterparts.
RDAs, however, have a distinct look that’s accomplished only through this ad type:
With RDAs, you can add up to:
15 marketing images.
There’s a bit of a learning curve with RDAs, so give yourself some time when you’re first setting them up.
(Pro tip: the call to action text is “automated” by default. Be sure to select an appropriate CTA under “more options” if you don’t want it to rotate through irrelevant CTAs.)
Unlike traditional banner ads, you don’t have to create multiple sizes or dimensions of an RDA. The “responsive” nature of this ad type automatically fits your ad to spec.
And unlike RSAs, you can see an indication of asset performance with RDAs. Just click “view asset details” on your ad. Your assets are given a rating of:
Learning (not enough data)
Select “Combinations,” and you’ll see your top performing “image-text-logo” pairings. But similar to RSAs, this view is not particularly useful, and no actual metrics are revealed.
App Install Ads
App Campaigns (formerly known as Universal App Campaigns) are effectively responsive campaigns, although they don’t share in the “responsive” naming convention.
Ad assets for App Campaigns can include:
Four “mix and match” independent lines of text
Up to 20 each of images, YouTube-hosted videos, and HTML5 creatives
Once your assets are uploaded, they behave very similar to Responsive Display Ads. The performance reporting is similar to RDAs as well.
Our final category of automated ads is known as “dynamic.” Think of dynamic ads like personalized email marketing, or mail merge if you’re old school.
The dynamic ads you create with Google Ads use a “mail merge” type of functionality to pull from a data source (such as keywords, websites, targets or product listings) and customize your ad with unique information, including specific final URLs.
If you’re still not entirely clear on the difference between responsive and dynamic, think of it like this:
Responsive ads get all their content from the assets you create in Google Ads; dynamic ads get their content from external sources.
When to Use (or Avoid) Dynamic Ads
Dynamic ads need more structured data and formatting than other ad types. They can require technical setup, and your data sources must be carefully curated to avoid nonsense ad variations.
Because you’re front-loading additional work, it makes sense to use dynamic ads only if they’ll save you time down the road.
For example, if you were emailing two friends, you wouldn’t create a database – you’d be better off copying and pasting.
Using dynamic ads is a smart choice if you have a large catalog, data feeds, or bulk updates to make. These ads let your messaging stay fresh while keeping your ad set small and edits to a minimum.
Dynamic (Customized) Text
You can use dynamic text in your existing text ads to customize your message without editing or creating multiple new ads.
Keyword insertion includes your matched keyword in the ad text to create an ad that’s specific and relevant to the search. Countdowns build urgency by showing the time remaining on a sale or event.
Ad customizers update your ad’s headline and description with your business data, such as locations, products and pricing. IF functions use “target” inputs like device and audiences to show custom messaging on the Search network.
Dynamic Search Ads (DSA)
Dynamic Search Ads use your website content, rather than a designated keyword list, to identify relevant searches and display your ad.
You select categories or webpages to include and exclude, and create description text. Google then uses your pages to match content and generate headlines and final URLs.
DSAs can be a good solution for large ecommerce sites. You can maintain coverage of your inventory without building keywords and ads for each and every product.
You can also review search term data to find coverage gaps and new keyword opportunities for the ads you’re managing.
DSAs are not right for every business. Daily deal sites, restricted industries, and Flash or image-based sites won’t work with this ad type. Be sure to review the policies and ensure your DSA ad groups are set up for success.
Shopping Ads & Dynamic Remarketing
Although they don’t share the “dynamic” naming convention, all Google Shopping Ads are dynamic by nature. They’re populated from a feed (Merchant Center), and there’s not a 1:1 relationship between a single ad creative and a URL.
Dynamic remarketing ads are actually what you’d expect from the name; they show the specific content your prior visitors viewed on your website. These ads are populated from Merchant Center or your business data.
Dynamic remarketing campaigns can also support dynamic prospecting (scroll down the page for details), which isn’t a separate ad type but which uses machine learning and data feeds to reach new customers.
Phasing Out: Dynamic Display
Google Ads seems to be transitioning away from “Dynamic Display” as a naming convention.
Support information about Dynamic Display ads now redirects to Responsive Display or Dynamic Remarketing articles. The naming difference is subtle, but Dynamic Display (as opposed to Responsive Display) refers to ad templates that are no longer available in the interface.
While the Dynamic display ad feed is still currently supported, the name appears to be in transition. The Google Ads help link “Learn more about dynamic display ads feeds” now redirects to “Create a feed for your responsive ads” instead.
Google’s move toward a more automated platform has pros and cons for advertisers.
Set yourself and your clients up for success by using automated ad formats that save time and bring great results.
While you can stick with manual ad types for simpler campaigns (for now), knowing when and how to use automated ads will give you a marketing edge.
SAN JOSE – With more advertisers and bigger budgets crowding onto Facebook and Instagram, acquisition costs are climbing. Advertisers can make their social ad dollars go further by re-thinking campaign fundamentals.
“You need to make sure you’re scaling your available inventory for click-through rates, mirroring your audience, and being dynamic,” 3Q Digital’s Senior Strategy Development manager Madeline Fitzgerald said in sharing tips for lowering CPAs across Facebook at SMX West Thursday.
Deconstructing Facebook CPCs
Audience size: bigger is usually better. CPCs on Facebook are affected by audience size, account structure, and click-through rates (CTR). The narrower and smaller your target audience, the more competitive your bid will need to be, Fitzgerald explained. The competition in the auction will ultimately impact the CPC outcome.
“If you’re noticing that your CPCs are really high, one of the first things you should do is check your audience sizes. If you’re seeing that [it’s] getting too specific, see if there are any other interests, behaviors, demographics that we can add.” Doing so, she explained, will help to broaden the target pool and give the Facebook algorithm more options to show your ads.
If you’ve reached a ceiling, broad targeting might be the next step. “If you already have a mature account, don’t go straight to this if you’re still early on in your testing phases. But if you’re trying to get to that next level, broad targeting is great way to do so,” Fitzgerald explained.
Account structure and segmentation. Account structure and the way we segment our ad sets can also determine the available ad inventory. Ads can run across a range of Facebook properties – from News Feed and Messenger to Stories and Instagram feeds. When we add segmentations like placements or geographies, the audience pool becomes restricted and advertisers might miss out on more efficient inventory.
“The algorithms are smarter than we are,” she reasoned. “Let the robots have it on factors like devices and placements. A couple of years ago, we laughed at everyone who did that. But we’re actually seeing a 13% lower CPA with some of our clients who [no longer segment those].”
Segmentation can be valuable when focusing on the funnel stage – i.e. audience personas, creative, and destination pages. But Fitzgerald recommends skipping demographics, geographies, devices, and placements — any of the factors you can’t edit after you set them up.
Campaign budget optimization. Soon, ad set budgets will be going away, in favor of campaign budget optimization (CBO), which uses machine learning to automatically serve ads to the target audience based on predictive analysis.
“I think the biggest way to figure out how to work this into our strategy is to think about the language Facebook is using to tell us about how the algorithm operates. Facebook tells us that CBO looks at the available opportunities – which is a combination of audience size and the audience’s propensity to actually convert into billable opportunities.”
Facebook’s algorithm prioritizes volume over potential for conversion,
which is why CBO works, she explained. Marketers can group together audiences with
similar potential reach or size and the budget optimization tool will see more
conversion potential for larger audience within the budget.
Conversions are in the creative
Mirror your audience. “As advertisers, it’s our job to help users see themselves
and their goals – what they want to accomplish – in our creative. We need to
make sure we’re making it very obvious for them,” said Fitzgerald.
Compelling ad creative should be able to clearly visualize
the value proposition of what’s being promoted. And it’s not just about getting
more users in the door, it’s about getting the right users in the door
because they were drawn to your creative.
Engage audiences with video. Facebook has been pushing advertisers
to use animation and video for some time now, but Fitzgerald argues advertisers
still aren’t doing enough with it.
“A lot of advertisers take existing creative and put a slow
zoom on it, or pull a three-minute explainer video and think that counts as an
ad. But that’s not really what we’re being called to as advertisers here,” she said.
“It’s our job to figure out how to leverage movement in a more disruptive way,
and think about new original ways to talk to people.”
Highlight clear value in the copy. Effective copy isn’t about being brand heavy. It’s about
making users comfortable with clicking on an ad. Fitzgerald explained that advertisers
can build that trust and comfort by keeping ad copy directly tied to the value of
what you’re selling.
“We want to make sure users don’t need to go through any guesswork to figure out what’s going to happen next,” Fitzgerald said. “People don’t want to have to read through your whole website to understand why they should engage with your brand.”
This story first appeared on Marketing Land. For more on digital marketing, click here.
About The Author
Taylor Peterson is Third Door Media’s Deputy Editor, managing industry-leading coverage that informs and inspires marketers. Based in New York, Taylor brings marketing expertise grounded in creative production and agency advertising for global brands. Taylor’s editorial focus blends digital marketing and creative strategy with topics like campaign management, emerging formats, and display advertising.
In April 2019, Google was experimenting with a new local SERP that highlighted alternative directory sources for the same query. At the time, we saw an example in the wild for Germany. Now, an updated version of the SERP featuring branded directory buttons appears to be live in the UK, Belgium, Spain, Greece, and France – if not already throughout Europe.
A more prominent directory box. Below is an example screenshot from a UK search, showing directory links above the map and local pack.
SERP showing results for ‘asbestos removal Halifax UK‘
This change in the SERP grows out of Google’s continuing effort to comply with the European Commission’s antitrust decision in shopping search. It’s also an attempt by the company to preempt a separate antitrust action in local search.
Yelp previously criticized these types of screens as a return to Google’s “rival links” remedy, which was originally proposed in 2013 and ultimately rejected by the European Commission.
UK SERP showing a local carousel above the map
How are the directories selected? One obvious and immediate question is how are the displayed directories chosen? This isn’t an ad unit, in contrast to the solution implemented in shopping search. In the latter context, comparison shopping engines and Google Shopping bid against one another for placement in PLAs. However, there’s no comparable “sponsored” or “ad” label in the directory box or carousel above.
We must assume that Google is algorithmically choosing the directories to display. In the UK example above, clicking on the directory box links takes users to a category page in the case of Yell but a business profile page in the case of Cylex. Other searches (e.g., “dentists, London”) show a carousel with multiple, alternative directories.
In some cases, the directories appear on the first page of the organic results, below the map. In other cases, they do not.
Why we care. It remains to be seen whether this approach is acceptable to the European Commission. Part of that will depend on whether the buttons drive meaningful traffic to these publishers. If so it could revive the fortunes of at least some of them (think “barnacle SEO”), which have continued to see declining traffic as Google My Business and zero-click search grab more user focus and engagement.
About The Author
Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land, a member of the programming team for SMX events and the VP, Market Insights at Uberall.
E-commerce category pages represent a larger opportunity for ranking and driving organic search traffic than product detail pages, according to research unveiled at SMX West 2020 on Thursday.
Across nearly 30 top U.S., e-commerce sites ranking for more than 25 billion keywords, category pages outperformed product detail pages, driving more keyword rankings and estimated traffic, as well as showing higher potential to capture additional traffic with optimization.
The data – culled by JumpFly and seoClarity from Google’s rankings in the U.S. – highlight the outsized role that category pages play in upper-funnel marketing efforts to drive brand awareness and interest.
Specifically, e-commerce category pages – which include parent category, subcategory and product grid pages with faceted navigation – ranked for 19% more keywords on average than product detail pages ranked for. The additional keywords they ranked for drove an estimated 413% more traffic, based on the keywords’ search demand and the pages’ ranking position. With optimization, those ranking category pages also showed the potential to drive 32% more traffic.
Even though category pages drove strong traffic, there’s a significant amount of room to improve ranking performance. On average, each captured an estimated 9% of the share of voice in its search results page. That means that the other ranking pages captured an estimated 91% of the clicks. Product detail pages, by contrast, captured just 2% of the share of voice.
E-commerce sector trends
The strong-category-page trend was most apparent across sectors that naturally target more generic head and torso keywords. For example, sites that sold cordless hammer drills, table lamps and cowboy boots drove stronger performance with category pages, including fashion, home goods and home improvement, as well as department store sites.
Interestingly, the results varied for one sector tested: electronics. One likely reason that product detail pages perform more strongly in this sector could be that electronics keyword themes tend to contain more concrete product attributes than those in other e-commerce sectors. For example, common TV searches include specifics like the size, display technology, resolution, brand and whether it’s “smart” or not. Product names for electronics also tend to contain some of those attributes to differentiate the many similar products available. Therefore, the relevance between a detailed search query and the details in the product name is higher than it would be for other sectors.
Regardless of sector, however, the direct-to-consumer space drove the strongest category-page results, with category pages ranking for 356% more keywords than product detail pages. These brand manufacturers selling their own products on their sites – like Apple, IKEA, The Gap and Nike – drove an estimated 202% more traffic with category pages, and had the potential to drive 233% more traffic.
Marketplaces and auctions
No e-commerce story is complete without a look at marketplaces and auctions. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a strong consensus among the sites in either group.
Behemoth Amazon bucks the trend with product detail pages ranking for an incredible 21,847% more keywords: 34 million keywords compared to the meager 155,000 keywords that its category pages ranked for. Amazon’s product detail pages also drove an estimated 57.5 times more traffic, and had the potential to drive 275.7 times more traffic.
This makes a certain amount of sense based on Amazon’s strength in media and electronics sales. Both sectors are more focused on the types of keywords that product detail pages would naturally win – book and movie titles, and product attributes. In fact, one of Amazon’s best practices for product detail pages involves placing as many product attributes as possible into its 50- to 250-character product names.
Conversely, the product names, and consequently the title tags that are typically based on them, tend to be very short and vague on most e-commerce sites. One luxury jewelry site, for example, has more than 10 products named simply “Ball Ring.”
Walmart’s smaller marketplace system acted more like Amazon with product detail pages that ranked more strongly. Though technically classified as a marketplace since its Target+ expansion to include third-party sellers last year, Target’s much smaller network acted more like a department store with stronger category pages.
On the auction side, eBay acted more like a department store with slightly stronger category pages, while Etsy drove more rankings with its product detail pages.
Why it matters
This research suggests that category page optimization is a valuable area to prioritize to boost your organic search rankings and traffic.
Category pages form the backbone of an e-commerce site as the clickable representation of the site’s taxonomy. Every category page naturally targets a series of keyword themes that form a path through the funnel. The head keyword sits at the mouth of the funnel, while the related, more detailed themes step lower to form the torso and long tail that move toward the tip of the funnel. Traditionally, the product keywords sit at the very tip of the funnel, converting the customer to a sale.
For example, an e-commerce site that sells clothing could have the following click path through a series of five category pages: women’s clothing > dresses > maxi dresses > black maxi dresses > XL black maxi dresses. Each of those five pages targets a unique keyword theme with a place in the sales funnel. Optimizing category pages enables you to capture those searching customers as they explore their purchase options.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
About The Author
Jill Kocher Brown is a 14-year SEO consultant, author, speaker, and editor. She loves data-driven decisions, scalable SEO strategies, e-commerce and technical SEO. A veteran of five agencies and in-house twice, Jill can be found these days at digital marketing agency JumpFly, Inc., where she’s pioneering the SEO practice.