We look at the changes to Google Paid Ads over 2020 with the statistics that you should know about when considering your e-commerce paid search strategy

2020 has been a year of stark changes. COVID-19 has dominated our lives for months now, and – as well as creating a fresh batch of health concerns – has changed every aspect of society, from the way we work and socialise to travel restrictions and stringent handwashing.

But things have changed throughout 2020 in other ways too, including in the world of Google paid ads. Changes to Google Ads in 2020 may have flown under your radar, but they are both significant and impactful. In fact, they could be affecting your own paid ads right now.

So what are these changes, and what do they mean for the wider world of Google pay per click ads? We’re here with the answers.

The decline of the tablet

Sales and interest in tablets have taken a sharp nosedive across the end of 2019 and into 2020. This has been a fairly sudden change, with tablet growth spend shifting from 5% growth in Q3 2019 to a 22% decline in Q4 of the same year. This loss of interest only became more pronounced in 2020, with spend declining at least 45% each of the first two quarters of the year.

While this could be a case of advertisers changing strategies, the dramatic nature of this shift suggests something else at play. In Q4 2019, shipments of tablets were at their lowest number since Q3 2012.

Part of the issue for tablets could be the growth of smartphones. With larger smartphones packing better functionality than ever, tablets just don’t carry the same appeal they used to. As such, the volume of searches happening on tablets has dropped significantly, and paid search advertisers are also seeing a decline.

So what does this mean for Google pay per click ads? Essentially, it means there’s less of a need to focus on traffic coming from these devices. While it’s still useful to check in, the likelihood of significant inefficient spend volume coming from tablets is becoming less and less likely. Just 4% of Google search clicks come from tablets.

Updates to the Google Search Partner Share

In March 2019, Google announced that Shopping ads featured on the Google image search would be grouped with the core search network instead of the Search Partner Network. This came after Yahoo decided to turn to Microsoft Ads for its search ads, severing the search partner traffic relationship between Yahoo and Google.

The result of these changes was a sharp decline in click share coming from search partners for Shopping. By the end of Q2 2019, click share for both text ads and Shopping was less than 1%.

Due to the lack of control given to advertisers over aspects like bidding and placements, the Search Partner Network has always been a contentious source of paid search traffic. However, an inherent discount for search partner clicks means it usually lines up to around how much lower conversion rate is for search partner traffic relative to the core network.

Today, the debate surrounding the fairness of the Google Search Partner Network is all but useless, as the network itself is rapidly fading into insignificance.

Broad match now accounts for 10% of the non-brand Google paid clicks

The share of non-brand Google paid ads clicks attributed as broad matches in Google search query reports has seen a dramatic drop in recent years, falling from more than 25% in the first half of 2016 to just 10% in Q2 2020.

This seems to be less about advertisers turning against broad match and more about Google’s ever-changing definition of close variants over the years. Looking at the share of total exact match traffic which come from close variants, we see that this share has risen from 12% in Q1 2016 to more than 40% in Q2 2020 more the median advertiser.

The current definition of a ‘close variant’ is anything Google deems to have the same meaning as the keyword, which is about as broad as the definition can get. The infusion of so much traffic which would have been considered a broad match into close variants mean that advertisers must bear these categories in mind while evaluating search query reports to identify situations that warrant keyword negatives.

Not all close variants will be poor matches, but many do deviate from the exact and phrase matches on the nonbrand site. With close variants essentially replacing broad matches, marketers cannot simply avoid broad matches as a way to keep query-to-keyword matches strong.

Experts saw these changes coming, just not so soon

As we mentioned earlier, 2020 has been a year of changes. We’re all on high alert for ways our lives and our jobs have changed, but not all trends and changes are the direct result of COVID-19.

Some of the underlying trends we’ve seen in Google paid search have been taking shape for years, and aren’t necessarily the result of current events. Some may have been pushed to the forefront by the pandemic, but the landscape of Google pay per click ads will continue to transform regardless of what’s going on in the wider world.

Do you own an ecommerce business? Are you looking for help with your paid search? Headland Marketing can offer the support you need. Find out more by clicking here.