Skip to main content
Digital MarketingPPC Advertising

PPC 2021 in review: Privacy and automation force advertisers to adapt

By December 29, 2021No Comments

From the deprecation of broad match modified keywords to FLoC to RSAs becoming the default, PPC professionals dealt with a lot of change in 2021.

In 2021, PPC professionals navigated changes in keyword match types and automated bidding, scratched their heads at the prospect of a future without third-party cookies and navigated their role in an increasingly automated industry.

Prompted by the vision that platforms, like Google, have for their services as well as increased concern over user privacy, these changes underscored adaptability as one of the traits that define successful marketers. Below, we’ve summarized the most impactful changes, announcements and developments that shaped PPC this past year and, in all likelihood, will continue to influence the years ahead as well.

Farewell, broad match modified keywords

In Q1 2021, Google announced a significant change to how it treats phrase match keywords by expanding it to include broad match modifier traffic (BMM).

“Broad match now looks at additional signals in your account to deliver more relevant searches,” Google also announced. These signals include landing pages and keywords in your ad group.

The PPC community’s reaction to this news was mixed: “With the recent changes that Google has made, it seems like a bit of a (very) thinly veiled attempt to take back control from advertisers,” said Amy Bishop, owner of Cultivative, “You can’t optimize against what you can’t see, and you certainly can’t optimize against controls that have been taken away.”

Kirk Williams, owner of ZATO Marketing, had a different opinion: “This is simply a logical progression in [Google’s] ever-changing match type behavior that mirrors changes in other areas, pointing towards a world in which Google uses the millions of signals under its control to make auction time decisions for which the limited, human advertiser is unable to make as technology and machine learning bidding solutions progress.” 

In Q2 2021, the final nail in BMM’s coffin was hammered in when the platform announced a deprecation date for BMM keywords. To put an end to the saga (for now), Google also made it so that phrase match or broad match keywords that are identical to a query are now always preferred as long as they are eligible to match.

And, a few months after Google’s initial announcement, Microsoft Advertising said it would also expand phrase match to include BMM traffic.

Bundled bid strategies replaced standalone options

Google updated its Smart Bidding in April 2021, bundling the Target CPA (tCPA) and Target ROAS (tROAS) strategies with the Maximize Conversions and Maximize Conversion Value bid strategies.

Three months later, the company removed standalone Maximize conversions and Maximize conversion value bid strategies for search campaigns. Shortly after that, Google removed the old tCPA and tROAS options from standard campaigns, effectively completing the bundling of these bid strategies.

Microsoft Advertising made an important change in this area as well: Beginning in March 2021, it migrated all search, shopping and Dynamic Search Ads campaigns without an automated bidding strategy in place over to Enhanced CPC.

FLoC was debated and delayed

With the deprecation of third-party cookies slated for 2022 (which Google later pushed back to the latter half of 2023), it wasn’t much of a surprise when Google first announced that it was testing an alternative targeting technology in October 2020. Known as Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), the proposal was opened for advertiser testing in Q2 2021.

Despite being billed as more privacy-friendly for users, there were widespread concerns about techniques such as fingerprinting, which could be used to reverse engineer individuals from the cohort. The Electronic Frontier Foundation even published an article opposing the proposal. Marketers also shared concerns that Google was being opportunistic and using the deprecation of third-party cookies to create a “walled garden” for itself.

Chrome’s competitors have no plans to adopt FLoC, which will limit its functionality. There was even a proposal by WordPress to block FLoC by default. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority also engaged Google about the proposal and the search company agreed not to favor its own products or access personal user data.

Google Ads gave PPC professionals a lot to adapt to

In addition to the updates mentioned above (and below), Google Ads made a number of other impactful announcements in 2021.

One of the most noteworthy changes was that responsive search ads (RSAs) became the default ad type for Search campaigns. Google later followed that news with a sunset date for expanded text ads (ETAs), which will become unavailable beginning in July 2022. As it did with the phrase match change, Microsoft Advertising also announced that it would be deprecating ETAs starting on June 30, 2022.

This was also the year that Performance Max campaigns, an automated campaign type that runs across all Google ad inventory, became available to all advertisers. Google bundled that news (as it seems to have done quite frequently in 2021) with another announcement: Smart Shopping and Local campaigns would be “upgraded” to Performance Max in 2022.

Performance Max campaigns are also part of the Google Ads Insights Page, which shows currently trending searches, auction insights and interest predictions tailored to the account. In November 2021, the company expanded on the Insights page by adding four features: consumer interest insights, audience insights, change history insights and auction insights, and demand forecasts.

In April 2021, instant match rates became available for Customer Match, which allows advertisers to use their first-party data to remarket to customers on Google Search, Shopping, Gmail and YouTube. Then, in November 2021, the platform rolled out some of Customer Match’s features to all policy-compliant advertisers, enabling them to observe their lists to see how well they perform against the general audience, among other capabilities.

Advertisers gained access to some new data when Google announced that it would show historical data for queries that received impressions but no clicks in the search terms report for Search and Dynamic Search Ads campaigns. This didn’t reverse the September 2020 change that initially limited search terms reporting, as the data is still only for “terms that were searched by a significant number of users,” but the data could reveal what’s failing to attract the right audience. If you haven’t exported your historical query data, make sure to do so before February 1, 2022 — that’s when Google plans to remove historical query data collected prior to September 1, 2020, from the search terms report.

In terms of other fresh capabilities and updates, Google Ads ditched campaign drafts in an updated experiments page, which eliminated a clunky part of the workflow for testing. There was also a new budget report, which shows a monthly spend forecast that advertisers can use to understand how editing their budget can affect the campaign’s spending limit.

The Google Partner Program changes that were initially slated to go into effect in June 2020 were pushed back to February 2022 due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic. In addition to the postponement, Google revisited some of the changes, namely enabling Partners to either dismiss or apply recommendations to achieve a 70% optimization score and keeping the 90-day spend threshold at $10,000 (instead of the proposed $20,000 every 90 days). After the delay announcement, Partners that already met the 2022 requirements before the deadline requested to receive their new badges — Google consented.

The company also began testing a new three-strikes program for accounts that repeatedly violate ad policies. The system starts with a warning and no penalties for an initial violation. From there, each violation has an increasingly stringent penalty until the account is finally suspended. PPC professionals were largely in agreement with the program, though they were very skeptical about policy application due to the frequency of incorrectly flagged ads.

Read the rest of the article on Search Engine Land here.

If you want to get started with PPC advertising to help grow your business, acquire new customers and generate leads – give us a call and check out our information on PPC Management.