By Nikki Buergel ~ General Manager & Head Of Paid Media

It’s fair to say that we all went headlong into 2021 after a very turbulent 2020, where we saw the world change as we knew it. The pandemic has impacted all our lives on every level, and the digital world was not exempt from the pandemic. As we reflect on last year and what this new year holds, we have outlined some of the updates that happened in 2021 in the world of paid for media.

1. Google Keyword Match Types

As per my blog post in February 2021, Keyword research is the DNA of any digital marketing strategy. It is vital for SEO, content marketing, email marketing, and PPC (paid per click advertising). Google and all Search Engines are all about relevance. You need to appear for the terms that people are searching for.”

There were 4 different match types, namely: 

  • Broad match: This one loosely correlates to the keywords and can bring in a number of different variations.
  • Broad match modified – BMM (used a +sign before each keyword): This match type triggered ads if the keywords were in the exact format or a close variant, which allowed for more control.
  • Phrase match: This will trigger ads with the exact keywords/ phrase with others words in front/ behind it. 
  • Exact match: Ads will only be triggered by the exact keyword(s) or close variants thereof.

Like most things in 2021, keywords were not exempt from the rollercoaster ride!

In February 2021 Google announced changes to BMM and Phrase match keywords. BMM was to be phased out as their behaviour was rolled out into Phrase match in order to simplify the keyword portfolio and to allow advertisers to reach more relevant searches. As of August 2021, BMM was removed from Google Ads. Current BMM keywords will take on the behaviour of the new phrase match rollout.

Then on the 23rd September 2021, Google made another announcement, which was met with mixed reviews. In short, Exact match logic is now applied to Broad and Phrase match, which means, Google will opt for the term that exactly matches the query if you are targeting multiple Exact match keywords, rather than a term that might be slightly different which it felt better matched to the query. For a more detailed explanation, please see this blog article.

2. Apple’s iOS 14 Update With Relation To Facebook Advertising

The iOS 14 update on 26th April personally impacted our work. In short, Apple rolled out the privacy-first iOs 14.5 update, which now allowed users to opt-out of being tracked by apps, for example Facebook. What does that mean for advertisers? Tracking data is no longer accurate, and this tracking data allows advertisers to track conversions and create retargeting audiences. Data is key in the digital realm and now this is incomplete, with shrinking audiences and higher CPMs. To add to these woes, there are now hoops to jump through with Aggregated Event Measurement, domain verification, and shorter attribution windows (because these users can opt-out of data tracking). We were working on a big campaign at the time and we for one experienced these changes.

Consumer data privacy has become a hot topic, and if we are going to be subjected to ads, they may as well be personalised, all of which I respect when I don’t have my digital advertising head-on, but when running multiple campaigns as an advertiser, it can be frustrating.

One has to start looking at targeting  alternatives.

As frustrating as Facebook advertising can be, we don’t suggest giving up on Facebook ads. Depending on the sector, it is still an effective channel for growing a business. The key is to adapt to the changes and stay ahead of your competitors. It isn’t all bad. One may say in a way it has also been a great move in that it has shifted the onus onto marketers to go back to basics and perfect this i.e. market research, messaging and creatives (artwork and ads) since targeting and attributions aren’t as capable as they once were.

Creatives and messaging have always been important, but now more so than ever!

3. Say Good-Bye To Expanded Text Ads (ETAs)

In March 2021, Google replaced Expanded Text Ads (ETAs) with Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) as the default for Search campaigns. This was a sign for advertisers of Google’s next move and sure enough on 31 August 2021 Google announced that on 30th June 2022 expanded text ads (ETAs) will be retiring.

Now you may ask why? According to Google, 15% of search queries daily are new, as such, automation is key to keeping up with these trends. Google’s solution, RSAs, “help you compete in a wider variety of relevant auctions” and “drive incremental conversions [with] fewer ads.”

ETAs will continue to serve, however you will not be able to edit these ads or create any new ETAs (you will be able to pause/ reactivate/ delete). A lot of advertisers preferred ETAs as it gave one more control, and this switch feels like Google is taking full control.

RSAs come with their own challenges as one can stipulate the order for all the headlines/ copy. In addition, there are sometimes only so many ways one can say something, and now advertisers are being forced to get creative. With Google also having control over most of the order, the context of the ad can change. There are other challenges, which advertisers are having to find work arounds, because like it or not, RSAs are the future, as is automation.

We strongly suggest that you perfect any ETAs that you would like to keep running and let’s hope that Google improves RSAs reporting. The clock is ticking!

4. A Bleak Future Ahead For Third-Party Cookies

Privacy and third-party cookies has been a controversial topic for some time, so this comes as no surprise. The phase out was scheduled for 2022, but on 24th June 2021, Google announced that the death of third-party cookies would be pushed out to 2023. Google stated that the delayed move was because they had to “move at a responsible pace” and “avoid jeopardising the business models of many web publishers which support freely available content.” Google stated that “this will allow sufficient time for public discussion on the right solutions, continued engagement with regulators, and for publishers and the advertising industry to migrate their services.”

5. Google Ads Search Terms Report 

The privacy issue continues and on 20th September 2020, Google announced that it was updating the Search Query Report to only include terms that had sufficient searches, as a result, fewer search terms were available. This upset many advertisers. Then in August 2021, Google did a loop around to show more search queries that meet their privacy standards. Google also mentioned that in February of 2022 it will be removing any search terms prior to September 2020 that don’t meet the privacy volume thresholds.

For a change, Google gave advertisers an advantageous update, which can make us feel hopeful for 2022.

6. Google Partners With Shopify

This was probably one of the biggest announcements at Google Marketing Live 2022, which was held virtually. 

“Google will partner with e-commerce platform Shopify to let sellers show their products across Google’s platforms, the internet giant announced at its I/O conference on Tuesday. … The 2020 change had led to an 80% increase in sellers on Google, and the majority were small to medium-sized businesses.”

In short, users of Shopify will now be able to display products across Google entities like Maps, Images, Lens, and YouTube in just a few easy clicks. This new collaboration is being called the ‘Shopping Graph.”  It is also a big plus for shoppers as they will now be provided with more information about the products they are interested in and where else to find them.

Shopify users could always leverage both platforms separately, but this partnership will make it easier to use the two together.

7. Facebook, Instagram And WhatsApp Go Down For 6 Hours

What a major WHOOPSIE for the tech giant company that had a lot of people panicking and thinking that the internet had finally broken and/ or their phones/ PCs were broken/ run out of data etc!

This was also a big deal for advertisers who had a lot of money invested in advertising campaigns. We for one got hit with meeting a very tight deadline for a major campaign burst and had just gone live, for their system to crash.

On 4th October 2021, the app, the web version, Instagram, Messenger, and all of Facebook’s assets went down because all of Facebook’s servers had gone down.

This was a wake up call for everyone. For Facebook, it meant $79 million in revenue loss.

What advertisers learnt was to always have a backup plan. Nothing in life is guaranteed so advertisers should invest in a multichannel strategy where needed, in order to be prepared if need be i.e. if one channel goes down, you will still be promoting your business elsewhere.

8. Google Ads Monthly Spend Limits

For years advertisers paying via credit card have been looking for a way to control monthly spend when a daily spend has been set since Google can spend up to 2 x the daily amount if there is search volume. This new function was rolled out in 2021 and functions alongside campaign daily budgets—which continue to be a necessity. Implementing a monthly spend limit at account level acts as a safeguard against overspend across campaigns. Once the limit is hit your ads will stop showing, so it is imperative to keep an eye on this. 

9. Facebook Algorithm Insights

In June, Facebook released these algorithm insights and video series on how its News Feed algorithm works. What was interesting for advertisers was its explanation on how it uses machine learning to deliver ads.

Google makes clear-cut formulas like Ad Rank or Quality Score available to advertisers, whereas Facebook doesn’t. “For Facebook there are three indicators that equate to an “ad score” (not visible to advertisers). This score helps the algorithm determine when and where to show your ad. Those factors are:

  • How the advertiser sets the ad up. This can include details like Facebook advertising campaign objectives, audience targeting, location settings, and more.
  • The value of the ad. An ad’s total value is based on how much the advertiser is willing to bid on that ad combined with how likely the viewer is to engage with it, as well as the ad’s overall quality.
  • Each viewer’s preferences. As an advertiser, you get to choose what type of person you’d ideally like to see your ad. Similarly, Facebook users have the option to set up ad preferences to give the Facebook News Feed further guidance on what’s the best fit for them.

Facebook is looking for high-value ads with attractive visuals and compelling copy. You’ll want to avoid what Facebook Ads calls “low-quality attributes,” like too much text in an image, sensationalised language, or click-bait.”

So, as we roll into 2022, let’s embrace these changes and make them work for our clients. The pandemic seems set to at long last become an endemic, and we are all hoping that 2022 will be less turbulent than the last couple of years. Bring it on 2022!