Recent Changes In The Paid Search Environment And How They Can Affect Your School

Feb 2, 2021 | News & Announcements

There are even more changes to the digital marketing environment coming in 2021, and at least five of those developments are likely to affect your school.

Tammy Miles, Director of Paid Search Marketing, and Chris Cunningham, Conversion Leader, share:

  • How to guard your school against the potential fallout from these changes
  • The steps you should take to help increase lead quality and conversions
  • And more

Read the full video transcript below.

Tammy Miles: Hi, I’m Tammy Miles. I am the Paid Search Director at Enrollment Resources. I work with a great team here, managing Google Ad accounts for our clients. We do a lot of AB testing with everyone else in our team. Chris Cunningham is a Conversion Leader on that team. Chris, do you want to explain what that means and what you do?

Chris Cunningham: As Conversion Leader, I try to get the most conversions for the least amount of money. That’s pretty much my job. I work closely, hand-in-hand with many clients, and I’m in the daily grind of all the ad accounts here.

Tammy Miles: Good. We’re going to cover a few topics that we feel are important going into 2021, and then we hope to have some time at the end to do a little Q and A. Alex will be moderating our chat. If questions come up as we’re working through, just put them in the chat, we’ll keep track of things and then circle back towards the end.

Chris Cunningham: Alex is our developer. He’s the guy in the background doing all the smart work here.

Tammy Miles: That’s right. Exactly. There are five topics that we’re going to discuss. The first one is Search Term Transparency. It’s the new Google update in Google Ads. The second topic is the Google Ranking update that is coming in 2021, predictive analytics. It will have some new features that Google Analytics is offering as well as some layers, tools in Google Ads, data visualization, and internet privacy. We’ll get into Search Term Transparency. Some of you may be aware of this, and some may not, so we’ll do a brief overview of what that is. In September, Google cited privacy issues, saying that they had to restrict some of the search term reports available in Google Ads. Fred Vallaeys created a script to track the impact that has been since that update went into place.

Tammy Miles: And so on this graph, you see before the update, roughly ranging the percentage of search terms that we normally didn’t have visibility for. And then, once the update happened, there was quite a big spike. This has been a conversation on multiple threads for a lot of the professionals in the industry. We see maybe 20 to 35%. It varies, some industries are 50%, it’s a big deal. Maybe Chris can get into why.

Chris Cunningham: Working day-to-day on all the accounts, this is key information that we use to make smart decisions, including defining what we want to spend our money on for the budgets, making sure that we’re compliant, and that we’re not bidding on anything that we don’t want to be. Google has a pretty bad habit of removing key information, especially lately because they’re trying to move everything towards automation and more of a “trust us” kind of notion. I feel like I don’t want to be a cynic, but Google does have a “big black box” issue. Some of the things that I noticed with search terms are, especially when you’re trying to get a campaign off the ground, you really, really need that data to figure out where you’re going to start putting your money.

Chris Cunningham: In an industry like ours, $20 clicks is not an out-of-this-world thing. If we’re not getting data on anything under maybe a couple of clicks, that’s a lot of money wasted, and it can lead to a huge amount of wasted spend. So, no data to make decisions on, right? As Tammy was saying, we have a 25 to 30% decrease in search term transparency. This means we will spend a lot more money to try to collect data while wasting budget. We’re giving Google money to make sure that they’re doing the right things with it. And I think that’s one of the very problematic things.

Tammy Miles: We’ve been doing a lot of talking about how we can hedge against this change, and we have some tips. Chris, can you talk a little bit about the dynamic search ads and dynamic extensions? Generally, we don’t recommend this as a practice. Probably anybody who spends any time on Google Ads might experiment with this feature – Google likes to push it a lot.

Chris Cunningham: Dynamic pretty much means that you’re letting Google control everything about it. When it comes to dynamic search ads and dynamic extensions, you’re just trusting Google to scan your website and create the right ads, bring it to the extensions, and all these other things. We want to avoid that right now, especially with the lack of search term visibility. I think that’s a good start. The second thing is to update your negative keyword list. This is always important, but it’s even more important now if you can take historical data and import it into new campaigns that you’re starting because you’re not going to get that data right off the ground. You can’t hit the ground running with a lot of these campaigns in the search term visibility now.

Chris Cunningham: Same with your broad keyword traffic. When I’m doing campaigns using broad keywords, I watch these for probably about three weeks to a month. I update these negative keywords to try to control or train where the product keyword traffic can go.

Chris Cunningham: Broad keyword traffic, as with all these trends, if you’re not seeing the data come in, is going to be problematic. This flows into many other issues regarding compliance and keywords that you might not want to use. Like say “jobs,” or if somebody is searching job-related searches like Indeed or ZipRecruiter – we want to be able to negative these. Creating a negative list is really good for you.

Tammy Miles: A recommendation: if you have any historical data because you’ve been running Google Ads for any period, export all your search keyword data, including all of the metrics. Then have that repository there in case you need it. Grab it while you can.

Tammy Miles: The last one: tracking enrollment ROI to your keywords. There are many tags in Google Ads that can append to your URL string that will pull in the creative ID or your ad group ID or any sort of identifier to that actual keyword. The simplest one is the creative ID because that will include your campaigns, ad groups, and keyword data generally, like the sets. If you can get that into your CRM you can a least analyze your enrollment. Is that broad campaign helping you from an enrollment standpoint? Or, is it just not?

Tammy Miles: The other big one that is coming up is “mobile-first.” We’ve always talked about mobile-first, and I think a lot of this ranking update that’s coming isn’t necessarily new for a lot of folks, but it’s becoming way more important. If you haven’t gone through the page user experience requirements and haven’t looked at your website or landing pages, it’s important to be doing that now. The big, interesting thing which was coming is that in March of 2021, the Google bots that determine your organic website ranking will only look at mobile devices. Tablets and desktops won’t qualify at all in the ranking algorithms. You will want to make sure your mobile is fast. There are many various recommendations in the Google search console for your website if you work with a developer.

Tammy Miles: Going back to the page user experience ranking, given that it’s ranking and organic, how does this relate to Google Ads? Well, whatever Google is doing on a ranking front, it’s also doing as a quality score metric. Chris, can you talk a little bit about the quality score pertaining to landing pages and how that all fits in the Ad environment?

Chris Cunningham: Google has a not-so-hidden metric in the background. Probably about a third of the actual quality score is the user experience. That means making sure that your landing pages load fast and that your ad copy relates to the copy that’s on the landing page is really important stuff because it affects your quality score. In turn, quality score affects your cost per clicks (CPCs) – which is probably the most significant factor of them all – and your ad rank. If your ad ranks a little bit lower, you’re going to have a harder time getting into more auctions. It’s a little universe of metrics that you want to keep building up.

Chris Cunningham: You’re trying to cut the cost. You’re getting your ad rank, getting into more auctions, and it’s just building up your ad account time over time.

Tammy Miles: Anything you do to improve your mobile user experience will improve your conversion rate. It’s probably one of the most important things to do if you haven’t already from a business ROI perspective. Regarding the pages and experience, being responsive is the most foundational thing you do to start, but it isn’t the only thing. A lot of the layers of this page user experience ranking are quite technical. There are things about caching, your images, scripts, using the cloud, delayed loading. There are many really technical things that Google is looking at, like how big your text is, how big the buttons are for a mobile device. There are all these little tricks that you should go through and score. Again, Google search console is a great place to start. It has a lot of resources.

Chris Cunningham: The one thing to remember here is it’s now mobile-first. It is forever going to be mobile-first now. I know many people who have had a really hard time moving from the thought of desktopping first, but mobile searches are 80% of searches now. It’s important that you’re building for mobile-first. I really want to drive that home.

Tammy Miles: Next is predictive analytics. I’m personally quite excited about this new option. A couple of things: there’s the Google Ads insights tab, and then the GA4, which is the new Google Analytics feature. It’s a new property that Google’s rolled out that promises to make your Google Analytics a lot more business user-friendly versus having a data scientist having to dig through the details. Chris, could you give us a little overview of the Google Ads insights tab, and what you think will benefit people using that?

Chris Cunningham: I think Google is creating, once again, its own little universe for these kinds of items. The Google Ads insight tab – this is beta – I don’t even if it’s across all accounts yet, but I’ve seen it pop up here and there. Basically, what they’re doing is that they’re starting to show trends. Trends you can find from (really helpful, great information if you can use a properly), they’re starting to integrate it into Google Ads now. I can see that they have colleges, universities, post-secondary trending up compared to last week by quite a significant amount.

Chris Cunningham: These might be keywords or campaigns that you might want to get on. What they’re also doing is starting to amalgamate it with the recommendations tab. If you’re in the Google Ad accounts, you’ve seen the recommendations tab, and you’ve definitely seen the new Opti score that they have going on. What they’re doing is trying to get the insights tab merged with the recommendations tab. As soon as you see some of these stats, you can view the trend details, and that’ll bring you to some action items in the recommendations tab. It’s giving a little bit of flow and easy access. And once again, trying to get more of the business people, rather than data scientists or Google Ads managers running the whole show. It’s setting the bar a little bit lower, so more people can get into it. From the recommendations tab, you can make changes or at least see what changes are recommended. Keep in mind that Google’s recommendations are based on Google’s KPIs. They want you to spend more money, which is good for you occasionally. Just take it with a grain of salt cause that’s their KPI that they’re working towards versus yours.

Tammy Miles: The new GA4 analytics will have a new predictive element layered in. Basically, it will allow you to target people who are actually in what the AI determines is a purchase window. Based on their user behavior, and perhaps your own Google Analytics conversion tracking data (it knows all of those signals, from frequency of visits to conversion), it can target these people before they’re at that point of inquiry. The other one…

Chris Cunningham: This is exciting, by the way.

Tammy Miles: It’s brand new. It’s an audience within the GA4 that can link up to your Google Ads account. You would use that in your remarketing, whether it’s discovery or display, whatever sort of network or YouTube for that matter.

Tammy Miles: The other piece is the seven-day churn. These are presets. I’m not sure if you will be able to adjust the sort of window of length quite yet. But, the seven-day churn is basically like if someone is maybe going to be considering someone else, another competitor based on their behavior because they’re not as frequent, and they’re less likely to return. So it’s an opportunity for you to think, “Oh, okay, well, maybe we should target these people. Maybe we’re not in front of them enough, or we’re not top of mind for them.”

Chris Cunningham: You can be really aggressive in your remarketing for these kinds of lists, right?

Tammy Miles: Yeah. They’re way more focused and lasered. Most remarketing lists are based on audiences or past visits, or time duration, but never before had we had lists where we’re saying “actually these people are ready,” or “these people are maybe deciding on a different competitor.” It’s quite interesting, and I imagine that with the GA4 they’re promising many various new insights on that front. It is pretty exciting.

Chris Cunningham: Good stuff to watch out for. I’m pretty excited about it because I think the most that we’ve had far as the AdWords optimized list. I think there was a Smartlist, too, but that had to be built in Google Analytics to access it in Google Ads. This is creating some really awesome lists. I’m excited about it.

Tammy Miles: Data visualization.

Tammy Miles: So, this is a data studio template that Chris built out for his client. I’m going to let Chris talk about it.

Chris Cunningham: Data studio. So, this is a template that I built. The focus of this talk really is about data, how that’s changing in the background, and how that’s going to affect everything. I wanted to create a visual for everybody on what that data could look like. Google data studio is free from Google. You just go, I think, and you can build or template these awesome dashboards. What I built out here is just a sample of a display campaign. O n the left, you have all your campaigns and KPIs, like clicks, impressions, interaction, rate, cost, CPM, everything you want to see in a view that is probably a lot prettier than looking at an ad account.

Chris Cunningham: If you have to present a report to somebody, if you’re a Google Ads manager, this is a pretty way to do it. There are a lot of things that can change with the background.

Chris Cunningham: There is a bit of a learning curve to this. If you want some help, you can always email me. I’m happy to answer any questions on this kind of thing. All this is editable. One of the great things is that it pulls data directly from data studio or Google Analytics. In the top right, there’s a default data section. You can link this to your MCC account. If you run multiple accounts, you can flip in and out between them, get all this information, and send it off to your clients.

Chris Cunningham: I’ve built out a few other pages on here as well. There’s one for split data, and there are a couple of other ones as well. But the main thing that we’re looking at here is that you can showcase a lot of audiences, see what’s trending, and view a lot of your demographic information at a glance. Your males, females, and even mobile devices with full browsers down there – that’s a pretty huge percentage. Then on the bottom, month over month or even year over year, if you want to build that out. I find Google data studio a great way to present my information. This is just something I built out, and they also have a lot of templates as well depending on the industry or the information you need to present.

Tammy Miles: We won’t spend a ton of time on it, but this is something that should be on your radar. Lots of conversations about personal data privacy. Apple’s gotten people on their toes with their Safari ITP, restrictions on cookie data, only being allowed for like one day to seven days, depending, if you’re a third party. So, we had to do a lot of shifts a few years back, migrating away from Google Ads to Google Analytics so that it’s deemed first party. We don’t know what the future of cookie tracking is.

Tammy Miles: Other programmatic advertisers use this quite heavily, and given that they are deemed third party, they’re having to recheck and figure out a different way to do it. Browser blueprinting is one technology out there, except it requires a ton of resources and AI to run. And the accuracy behind that is unknown at this point. At least right now, if you’ve got Google Analytics or Google Ads, I don’t feel like there’s a ton of impact currently, but it’s something to keep in mind. If your data seems a little wonky, especially new visits – if you’ve got a real spike in new visits – that could be some of this at play.

Tammy Miles: It makes sense. There’s been a ton of abuse with this whole data attribution and following people right down to like, credit applications and unemployment, and delivering ads – that type of thing. This is really where this is stemming from. The changes in the UK, and now California has their own privacy laws too. There’s some evolution happening on how to accurately track the user journey accurately. And Google’s doing a ton of research and testing in this area to maintain that because it’s a pretty big part of their business model.

Chris Cunningham: Why does this matter? Apple and Safari and all that? Well, when I was pulling out this data, even I was actually pretty surprised to see that Safari users are huge on mobile.

Chris Cunningham: We have a Canadian client that 47.6% of their searches are from Safari. That means that for half your searches, your cookies are going to last one day to seven days. That means your remarketing efforts are going to be skewed. That means that all your data is going to be skewed. In our industry, the buyer’s journey is such a long time, right? People don’t just click a button, sign-up and enroll right away. This is going to become pretty problematic.

Chris Cunningham: It’s nothing that we have a solution for right now. I wish we did. And it’s something that we’re just going to have to watch over time. But I do have a feeling that the whole Google Analytics, the new GA4, the predictive analysis, the removal of search terms, it’s all playing into a bigger picture right now. Hopefully, down the road, we’ll start to get some answers on that. But, as of right now, the issue at hand is that Safari users are huge, and we’re losing data with them.

Chris Cunningham: Lots of changes happening in the background right now. Ask any questions we’re pretty open. Even later down the road, if guys are a client of ours, send us an email. Ask any questions. We’re always open to these kinds of things. We were always trying to innovate and get ahead of the curve here. Just one of the things that we do.

Attendee: Well, I was wondering if you might be able to expand slightly on the first thing on the first slide. I believe it was talking about the disadvantages of dynamic search. Maybe it was the second slide and extensions.

Chris Cunningham: To recap: dynamic search ads are giving Google full control of your ads. What they’re doing is scanning your landing page and then they’re creating ad copy to go along with that. And then they’re also finding keywords that might not be on. Which sounds really good, but you don’t have any data to make decisions on. It’s kind of a black box. Google is really bad at in smart campaigns, and these campaigns is not giving any data or changes that you can make.

Tammy Miles: They used to have auto-add suggestions. I don’t think that’s even a thing anymore, but at that time, you would see ad suggestions pop in and it would auto-populate if you didn’t turn it off. And what I noticed in that is some of those ads weren’t compliant. The language wasn’t compliant, although it’s pitching the program, or a career track or something to that effect. The danger with the dynamic search ads is Google’s generating the ad copy. You don’t see what they’re generating. They don’t give any visibility.

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