Land Before Time: Revisiting The Era BEC (Before Enhanced Campaigns)

Where were you on July 22, 2013? Hopefully not among the 2% of marketers who waited for Google to automatically migrate your accounts to Enhanced Campaigns. Otherwise, that was probably a pretty stressful day (if you even realized your campaigns had changed)!

Indeed, it’s been one year since the forced transition to Enhanced Campaigns, and somehow we’ve managed to avoid the apocalypse. In fact, 35% of search marketers have seen improvements in their primary KPI, with another 35% reporting no change, and only 30% seeing a decrease. Compare this to 51% of marketers who expected a change for the worse from Enhanced Campaigns prior to rollout.

These are among the findings of a recent survey of 85 global search marketers that provides a clear picture of the sentiment about Enhanced Campaigns one year later.



Google’s stated goal with Enhanced Campaigns was to make multi-device marketing the default in an increasingly mobile world. Based on everything we’re seeing, it’s safe to say this mission was accomplished. Today, 83% of marketers bundle their desktop and mobile paid search budgets.

One of the biggest complaints from marketers before Enhanced Campaigns was the perceived loss of control that would come from having to manage phone, tablet, and desktop ads together. Savvy marketers have developed different goals and strategies for engaging consumers across devices. 33% seek direct sales as their outcome from paid search. Another 33% focus on online traffic. 9% are looking to drive phone calls. 4% hope to generate in-store traffic. 2% set app installs as their objective, while 19% have some other conversion activity as their mobile KPI.

In order to best align mobile paid search activity with corresponding goals via Enhanced Campaigns, you can use mobile bid adjustments (MBA) to change the rate you pay for each click-by device. Roughly 60% of search marketers use MBA to decrease mobile bids, while another 10% set the adjustment to -100, effectively opting out of mobile altogether. Meanwhile, 26% increase mobile bids, and 5% don’t use MBA at all (so they pay the same per click on desktop, tablet, and phone).

Currently only 11% of marketers use an algorithm to calculate MBA, with the rest handling the process manually. Of the latter group, 55% find it somewhat or very difficult to optimize MBA -- so Google clearly has room to improve how it enables this functionality. Until then, you can leverage third-party technology platforms with algorithmic solutions.

Another way to improve your performance is through the use of advanced mobile ad formats. Only 52% of search marketers report using click-to-call ads, 47% are using location extensions, and just 21% are using mobile product listing ads (PLA). Beyond mobile ad formats, it’s important to direct consumers to a website that’s tailored per device. In a study of “three-screen perceptions,” only 50% of marketers are providing a rich, smart-phone optimized Web experience ,and just 47% are doing so for tablets.

The fact that many marketers are lagging behind consumer trends has been labeled the “mobile opportunity gap,” which serves as important context for another finding in the Enhanced Campaigns survey that shows 64% of marketers rate the performance of their mobile paid search efforts worse than desktop.

While you can certainly take matters into your own hands and set bespoke mobile goals, leverage mobile ad formats, and create custom landing pages, there is one area that’s a bit harder to control: cost per click (CPC). Even with MBA, the fact that Google put desktop, tablet, and phone ads all into the same auction totally changed  bid marketplace dynamics.

Conspiracy theorists accused Google of using Enhanced Campaigns to artificially inflate mobile CPCs, since they’d always been decidedly lower than desktop rates. Regardless of the reason, the fact is that mobile CPC rates have climbed consistently over the past year. In Q2 of 2013, global phone CPC was $0.45, while in Q2 of this year, it was up 20%, to $0.55. Meanwhile, desktop CPC has remained relatively flat ($0.62 in Q2 2013 and $0.65 in Q2 2014) year-over-year (YoY).

Overall, total search CPC was up 8% in Q2 -- but thankfully, click-through-rates (CTR) are at an all-time high at 2.17%. That’s up 26% YoY. It’s clear search marketers are getting better at keyword targeting and ad copy creation. In general, higher CTR offsets higher CPC and allows marketers to get the same or more clicks from a set budget.

As for total spend on mobile vs. desktop, phones and tablets accounted for 29% of all global paid search spend in Q2. And, because the CPC for mobile is still lower, that equated to 32% of all clicks. The U.S. skewed a bit lower with mobile, representing 28% of spend while the U.K. skewed higher at 36%.

It’s clear that the momentum behind mobile will only continue. eMarketer predicts $18 billion in mobile ad spend for 2014 (up 83% over last year), making it an advertising channel that’s bigger than newspaper and radio. The introduction of Enhanced Campaigns one year ago certainly accelerated the multi-device trend marketing and made it the default for search marketers. As for how you can prepare for the future, my best advice is to broaden your definition of devices and embrace the Internet of Things.

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