Some things stay the same—your Star­bucks order each morning, what TV show you’ll watch tonight on Netflix, or even your favorite tread­mill you use at the gym.

What always changes, however, is the paid media space. In 2016, we saw tons of changes happen­ing fast. If you (or your agency) didn’t keep up with AdWords updates, you may be a little behind this year.

But don’t worry! We’ve compiled some of the biggest changes in 2016, and added our predic­tions for game-chang­ers in 2017.

What changed in 2016?

No more right rail ads

If you do a Google search on your desktop, you prob­a­bly noticed the disap­pear­ance of right rail ads. In early 2016, Google decided to elim­i­nate texts ads in the right rail on desktop.

With the elim­i­na­tion of the right rail came the addi­tion of a fourth ad slot for what Google deems “highly commer­cial queries,” such as the home search seen above. On mobile however, you see only two or three ads at the top page of the results.

So how does this impact searchers and adver­tis­ers? For searchers, this means the desktop and mobile expe­ri­ences are more similar, creat­ing a more seam­less cross-device expe­ri­ence. For adver­tis­ers, the space becomes more compet­i­tive. No longer can your ad show above the fold if you’re not in posi­tions 1, 2, 3 or 4. As compe­ti­tion increases, adver­tis­ers have to bid higher for that top posi­tion and become more inten­tional about creat­ing quality, rele­vant ads.

Expanded Text Ads

If elim­i­nat­ing right rail ads wasn’t enough of a change for you, Google decided to “go big or go home” when it expanded its stan­dard text ad format to create the largest text ad in AdWords history. It more than doubled the head­line space and char­ac­ter limits. It also went from one head­line with 25 char­ac­ters to two head­lines with 30 char­ac­ters each, and the descrip­tion char­ac­ter length went from 70 to 80 char­ac­ters.

Before (Stan­dard Text Ads):

After (Expanded Text Ads):

This change allows adver­tis­ers to include more details and infor­ma­tion in their ads to invite a more qual­i­fied audi­ence. These ads also take up more real estate on the SERP, so the ability to show in top posi­tions becomes increas­ingly more impor­tant. Since searchers learn more about the product or service before they click to the site, adver­tis­ers have seen higher click-through rates with the launch of this new format. In two of our case studies, cover­ing the launch of ETAs in October through Decem­ber 19th, 2016, we’re seeing expanded text ads perform­ing better than stan­dard ads:

  • Home Builder Client: 10% increase in CTR, 60% decrease in CPC, 30% increase in CVR.
  • Ecom­merce Client: 20% increase in CTR, 15% decrease in CPC, 30% increase in CVR

Although results vary by client and by indus­try, these case studies align with early reports indi­cat­ing an uptick in overall perfor­mance with the launch of ETAs. Impor­tantly, as of January 31st, 2017, adver­tis­ers will no longer be able to create stan­dard text ads. That means you have a little over a month to create new ads in the expanded format, so hop to it!

Google starts showing ads in Local Finder

Since April, busi­nesses that have prob­lems ranking in Google’s Local Finder Results (the 3-pack) have had an increased chance of showing ads if users click on the “More places” link located at the bottom of the local results pack. The link takes users to a Google Maps results page, where ads are eligi­ble to appear on the left hand rail; these ads are auto­mat­i­cally gener­ated from AdWords loca­tion exten­sions. The change came along with Google making Maps a core Google search site—as opposed to part of Google’s search part­ners, which adver­tis­ers could opt out of if they wished. The moral of the story? Use AdWords loca­tion exten­sions if you aren’t already!

Changes at Search Discovery

Search Discovery expands into Advisory Services

In 2016, Search Discovery’s media team recog­nized that in-house client side teams were becom­ing increas­ingly sophis­ti­cated and needed an entirely new form of services from us as an agency.

We offer the exact thing most agen­cies protect as if their life depends on it—our knowl­edge. This past year, we worked with in-house teams to teach them the best prac­tices and tricks of the trade on how we get amazing results time and again.

In reality, we’ve been playing this role for some time but, in 2016 we offi­cially expanded our service offer­ings to include these advi­sory services (if this sounds like your cup of tea, don’t hesi­tate to contact us for more infor­ma­tion!).

Search Discovery Becomes a Google Premier Partner

This summer, Google unveiled a new Premier Part­ners badge. Only roughly 4% of North Amer­i­can agen­cies receive it, and Search Discovery was one of them! The badge is based Google prod­ucts exper­tise, managed monthly spend, and agency perfor­mance. Google says it also looks at a number of other factors such as imple­men­ta­tion and client reten­tion before grant­ing a special­iza­tion. The premier badge is a dynamic logo that show­cases agen­cies’ special­iza­tions in each Google product (Search, Display, Video, Shop­ping and Mobile.)

Search Discovery Attended the Google Partner Summit

Search Discovery attended the 2-day Google Partner Summit this year. Many of the speak­ers included Google’s lead­er­ship team from product, market­ing and sales.

A few key take­aways:

  • Video will take the spot­light in 2017
  • Don’t forget about the micro shop­ping moments of your customer journey
  • Team build­ing is the key to success and top results
  • This great photo!

2017 Predictions for Online Advertising

Agencies will become more than just an execution arm

As in-house teams become more sophis­ti­cated, and ad plat­forms become increas­ingly democ­ra­tized and acces­si­ble, agen­cies are going to need to offer some­thing more to justify their value. The unique skills of a search, display or social marketer from even just 2015 are becom­ing more and more commodi­tized and auto­mated. There are two ways we can survive:

1) Lever­ag­ing cross prac­tice exper­tise
2) Teach­ing in-house teams how to evolve

To gain a compet­i­tive advan­tage in the market­ing ecosys­tem in 2017, our clients are going to need to be sophis­ti­cated. Attri­bu­tion, data-driven deci­sion making and auto­mated report­ing are often discussed and touted but rarely executed well due to limi­ta­tions on the client side. In order to succeed, agen­cies will need to stop worry­ing about sharing their secret sauce, and start educat­ing their clients on how to evolve and reach levels beyond best prac­tices in siloed chan­nels.

Agen­cies need to estab­lish trust with their clients by sharing their knowl­edge and, in some cases, helping their clients bring that knowl­edge in-house. This will help them achieve the levels of inte­gra­tion neces­sary to lever­age tactics already avail­able to us in 2016, but that have still felt just out of reach for our clients.

At the same time, clients will need to be more trust­ing of their agen­cies by allow­ing access to data—of course with proper secu­rity precautions!—in order to better lever­age data for faster, more impact­ful deci­sions.

Voice Search

As kids have begun asking Santa for a Google Home or Amazon Echo for Christ­mas this year, we’re seeing that voice search and the use of digital personal assis­tants has grown unde­ni­ably in 2016.

Young people are of course adopt­ing these technologies—a recent Google study showed that 55% of teens ages 13–18 use voice search every day. But digital personal assis­tants are also now used by the major­ity of smart­phone owners.

Voice search has us think­ing about the differ­ences we should expect compared to tradi­tional text searches. For example, will voice search provide insight into a user’s search intent by giving us more long-tailed, “natural language” queries from which to derive context? What about voice search in combi­na­tion with a digital personal assis­tant?

Voice search trends in 2016 were about more than how adver­tis­ers can best utilize a single search query. 2017 may be the begin­ning of a new age in predic­tive response all together—one where a personal assis­tant will use signals like local weather or time of day to provide answers to searches before we need to utter a word. The impli­ca­tions for analyt­ics are inter­est­ing, too.

Publishers Podcasting

Podcast­ing has been around for over 10 years, and it’s finally getting the respect it deserves. From 2013 onward, podcast­ing listen­er­ship has increased steadily year-over-year, and grew the most between 2015 and 2016.

Whereas podcast­ing was previ­ously embraced by indie projects, recently large main­stream publish­ers have begun to test the waters, creat­ing news and update-focused podcasts. 2016 saw new podcast offer­ings from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and 2017 already has ESPN lined up to launch in January. Bottom line: the big boys are invest­ing, and podcast­ing is here to stay.

Why do we care? Podcast­ing presents a unique oppor­tu­nity for adver­tis­ers and marketers because it’s primed for growth and rela­tively untapped. Apple’s podcast­ing app is inte­grated across its entire ecosys­tem, provid­ing conve­nient access for new adopters. And the rise of smart cars and smart home systems providers further avenues for listen­ing growth.

Podcast­ing captures an audi­ence that’s young, educated and tech savvy. Podcast­ing ads are diffi­cult to skip, and users are actively engaged with the selec­tion and down­load process, making them more invested in the overall expe­ri­ence of podcast listen­ing. Stand­ing in the way to podcasting’s growth among adver­tis­ers is a lack of measure­ments stan­dards and listen­ing metrics. We antic­i­pate big growth in measure­ment tech­nolo­gies over the next year. After all, neces­sity is the mother of inven­tion.

Integrated digital to become more important in understanding customer journey touch points

Adver­tis­ers hear this a lot: “today’s world is so much more than winning a visitor over with a trendy, scroll-happy landing page. It’s about rela­tion­ships.” Really?

Yes! Rela­tion­ships and under­stand­ing your customer’s journey aren’t a new concept. But what’s new and differ­ent is all of the tech­nol­ogy and tools avail­able today to help marketers turn a prospect into an advo­cate.

All compa­nies want two things: new customers and repeat customers. What does that mean for 2017’s marketer? Getting creative with messag­ing, digital chan­nels, KPIs for differ­ent touch points in the customer journey and most importantly…understanding the customer.

For example, instead of asking how to appeal to visi­tors who have down­loaded a white paper, think: “how do I appeal to visi­tors who have down­loaded a white paper and need to sched­ule a demo with my fellow sales rep?” Instead of asking what ad copy to write, think: “what sort of message do I use on the 325×50 space I have?” Instead of trying to hit all chan­nels, think: “what chan­nels are they visit­ing most?”

Refram­ing adver­tis­ing deci­sions in terms of the customer journey is easier than ever to achieve, and the results are worth the effort.

In conclusion

2016 has been an excit­ing year for paid media. Several AdWords changes have thrown adver­tis­ers a curve­ball, but adapt­ing to these changes has proven fruit­ful. Here at Search Discovery, our orga­ni­za­tion has not only adapted to these tech­ni­cal changes, but also expanded our service offer­ings to stay ahead of the adver­tis­ing curve and offer a better expe­ri­ence for our clients.

As we head into 2017, pay atten­tion to trends in agency advis­ing services, voice search, podcasts, and an increased empha­sis on customer journey-centric market­ing.

We can’t wait to see what the New Year will bring. See you in 2017!