2020: The Year in Review for PPC
2020: The Year in Review for PPC

2020 was one hell of a year for obvious reasons. But even outside of an ongoing pandemic and all the other things, 2020 was also a big year for changes happening in PPC. To close out the year, I wanted to take some time to revisit the changes we saw in the PPC industry and give you some resources if you didn’t keep up with them.

I’m going to cover seven of the many newsworthy events of the year in the PPC space, including but not limited to:

  • Limitations with the Search Terms Report, Gmail ads, and Google Ads’ text options.
  • The Launch of Google Analytics 4 and Discovery Campaigns.
  • Facebook’s ad limitations with regard to misinformation and the 2020 election.
  • The iOS update and its impact on Facebook.

I’ll also cover updates outside of the Facebook/Google duopoly, such as with LinkedIn, Quora, and YouTube.

The most important PPC stories of 2020

This is not a comprehensive list of all the biggest marketing and advertising events of 2020 in PPC, but my goal is to cover the stories that will equip you with the knowledge that we’ll enable you to prepare, plan, and prosper with your paid strategy in 2021.

1. Search query visibility becomes limited in Google

In September, we learned that Google was going to start limiting the data shown in the Search Query reports to only those queries that are “searched by a significant number of users”. Which, if I’m being honest, is a real jerk move.

Although it might sound reasonable on paper, limiting the insights advertisers have into the queries that triggered their ads is only going to make it harder for us to spend our money efficiently and make sure we’re only serving ads to relevant users.

There are a number of posts out there about how this is impacting accounts. Here’s one, here’s another. Overall, the takeaway here is to make sure your keywords are as relevant as they can be and review the search queries you can see on a regular basis, but that we’re going to have to live with limited insights from now on.

2. Google announces and launches Google Analytics 4 (GA4) 

In October, Google announced that we would be getting a new look and new functionality in Google Analytics with GA4.

There is quite a number of things that are different in this new platform. The report organizations that we’ve come to know since 2013 are changing. The intent is to be easier to use, but as we all know, there will certainly be a learning curve as we figure out where things are and if all the reports we have relied on are still available.

Additionally, mobile app and website experience will be incorporated all into one platform with GA4. This is big for companies with a mobile app as those two have always had to live on separate platforms until now, making it harder to optimize. Here’s one of the best overviews of GA4 I’ve seen thus far, but odds are, there will be many more articles coming out as users get used to the platform.

3. Google creates Discovery Campaigns & removes Gmail placements

After a year and a couple of months, Google finally released Discovery Campaigns for the masses in June of 2020. This is the first truly new campaign type we’ve been given in quite a while.

Discovery campaigns allow advertisers to reach users across a number of new placements, including the YouTube Home and Watch Next pages, Gmail Promotions and Social tabs, and Discover.

This is even more important for advertisers who advertise on Gmail as those placements are now going away and Discovery campaigns will be one of the few ways to reach those users.

If you’re interested in giving Discovery Campaigns a whirl, this article is a good place to start.

4. Google Ads starts hiding the text options

Speaking of something else Google is hiding, in late August, many advertisers noticed that the text ad creation option was missing from their accounts. After quite a bit of outrage and confusion, Google did confirm that this was a test to try and get more users to leverage Responsive Search Ads.

Despite the confirmation of a test, it’s not a big leap for advertisers to read the tea leaves and begin preparing for Expanded Text Ads to go away. Moving forward, I highly encourage you to begin testing Responsive Search Ads (if you haven’t already) and begin figuring out what options work best for your accounts.

5. Lead generation updates on non-duopoly channels

Taking a step away from Facebook and Google for a bit, there were a number of updates on lead generation options throughout 2020.

First, LinkedIn finally gave us the ability to create remarketing lists based on how users engaged with your lead generation forms. This has long been an issue on the platform, but 2020 saw a reversal of fortunes and now advertisers can create lists of users who engaged with forms, users who submitted the form, and then either target, exclude, or create lookalikes off of any of them.

Second, Quora and YouTube released lead generation form options on their platforms. In a world where privacy and cross-device tracking is only going to get more difficult, lead generation forms can be a great way to collect user information directly on a platform without relying on conversion tracking to see performance.

6. Facebook steps up to prevent misinformation and limits social ads during the election

This year, Facebook stepped up to cover itself in the spread of misinformation on the platform. They did this in two ways: personal verification and a hold on all social issues ads.

First, any advertiser intending to run ads for any of the sensitive categories on Facebook would have to verify their identity with the platform. This included sharing some form of identification (passport or driver’s license) and getting a physical piece of mail at their designated address.

Second, Facebook put a limit on running any social issues ads around the United States election. At the end of October and extended through the November election. Since the day after the election, all social issue ads have been paused on the platform and are not eligible to run. After some hope that these would be active again on December 11th, the latest word isn’t so promising and the ads are going to be off for an indeterminate amount of time.

Although this certainly won’t impact many advertisers, this is a big deal for a number of organizations, especially non-profits. If you’re working on a media plan for any type of non-profit or social issue effort, you’re best looking somewhere outside of the Facebook and Instagram ad platforms.

7. Apple iOS update impacts Facebook

We are still very early in what’s happening here, but we already know this is going to be a big deal. With the update to iOS 14, Apple will require apps to ask permission to track their users across apps and websites owned by other companies.

In short, Facebook is concerned (and rightfully so) that many users will opt out of this tracking, thereby making Facebook’s powerful ads targeting, ad customization, and conversion tracking very difficult, if not impossible, in many instances.

What this means for advertisers is that 2021 might see our Facebook Ads performance go down quite a bit either from lack of specific targeting, mismatch of creative to the user, or lack of insights into conversion performance, hindering Facebook’s algorithm from making smart decisions on where to show impressions.

As I mentioned earlier, this is still an evolving story, but here’s a great, quick guide to what you need to know and how you can convey some of these changes to your clients. 

Work the limitations and launches of 2020 into your 2021 PPC strategy

This clearly is not a comprehensive list of all the newsworthy events of 2020, but it does encompass most that will impact your ad campaigns moving forward. Whether you’re generating leads, attempting to run and optimize Search ads, or doing pretty much anything on Facebook, 2020 had something up its sleeve for you. 


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