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!