What PPC lessons can we learn from 2022?
It’s the year when Performance Max replaced Smart Shopping. The year when the phase-out of third party cookies was delayed (again). And the year when tougher economic conditions started to put strain on businesses across the globe.
So as we enter 2023, performance marketing efficiency matters more than ever. The brands that get it right will surf through this wave of disruption, while those that don’t will likely struggle to stay afloat. So what processes, practices, and technologies can you put in place to ensure 100% of your ad spend is used wisely this year?
To help you refine your strategy for Q1 and beyond, we reached out to 28 PPC specialists and asked them a series of questions about their wins, challenges, and lessons learned from 2022:
- What worked in 2022 and that you’ll do again in 2023?
- What challenge in 2022 did you learn the most from?
- What did you achieve in 2022 that you’re proud of?
- What new approach are you planning to try in 2023?
The responses to each question are categorised under the 4 subheadings below.
Use the contents table on the left hand side to skip to the sections you’re most interested in and start making notes that will help you maximise your return on ad spend in 2023.
- Most experts we spoke to spent a lot of time and energy on optimising their Performance Max campaigns. This involved experimenting with different campaign structures, A/B testing asset groups, integrating first-party data through Customer Match lists, and feeding offline conversion tracking data into ongoing campaigns.
- With UA set to sunset in July 2023, many businesses are in the process of making the transition to GA4. This requires a lot of care and adaptation as GA4 introduces a completely new server-side tracking methodology. Give yourself enough time to ensure all conversion tracking has been set up properly at the beginning of the year to avoid headaches and lost revenue later down the line.
- Google announced it will be phasing out its Similar Audiences in 2023. Those that had relied on this tool are now looking to its closest alternatives; audience expansion and optimised targeting.
- Although the iOS14 update isn’t anything new, many businesses still haven’t established appropriate conversion tracking methods to mitigate the issues regarding privacy settings. Custom set-ups and trackings can work well in conjunction with newer methods ad platforms have rolled out (e.g. Enhanced Conversion from Google).
- A number of specialists stated they’ve recently been working with ChatGPT to further improve the efficiency of their ad creation process by creating more ad variations in a short period of time even when current creative and copy are working well. ChatGPT also proved useful for landing page copy creation.
- Aim to automate certain manual checks by setting up rules to get email notifications when something could be wrong on an account or needs action i.e. overspend, underspend, no conversions after X days etc.
- Building lists of negative keywords lists at the MCC level can be a big time saver for agencies.
- Greater levels of automation will free up more time in 2023 to focus on critical thinking and further development of soft skills. Fewer technical tasks creates an opportunity to build more complex and creative PPC strategies.
- Leveraging longer, interactive forms that help prequalify leads before they hit the CRM proved to be a big win for a number of B2B brands.
- Consider updating your reporting to provide more useful insights that empower wider business functions. Providing metrics in relation to a target gives context and makes your successes stand out. For example, think about using a bullet chart or gauge to report performance against a KPI target (CPL, ROAS etc). Or, use a calculated field to measure progress under or over a measure like budget cap.
- Incorrect conversion data can seriously break your automated bid strategies. But you can easily fix this by using Google Ads data exclusions, a very underrated and underused feature!
- Video ads dominated the market in 2022, and with that comes the need to be more creative while also being cost-efficient in production. Working with video can be costly, but users are also getting more comfortable with ‘lo-fi’ creatives for TikTok ads and Reels on Instagram giving you more creative flexibility.
- Some brands noticed increased traffic and lower cost leads by integrating YouTube bumper ads to their strategy to spread brand awareness campaigns away from a handful of paid social channels.
What Worked In 2022 That You’ll Do Again in 2023?
Specific tactics may change with every new update from Google and the social platforms, but general overarching strategies tend to have a longer shelf-life. If an approach worked well for you last year, it’s worth looking into why, and how you can further capitalise on that success this year.
The story of the year was undoubtedly Performance Max campaigns, hugely powerful when done correctly, but also requiring way more testing and understanding going into 2023.
One of our clients’ PMax campaigns essentially took over and began to undermine some of our key search campaigns. Make sure your search campaigns are built out with all your core terms and allow PMax to go after further keyword opportunities.
Also, be wary of using multiple conversion points, in our experience, PMax started going after the easiest conversion, with the least value, more often and began to deliver less value over time.
In the past setting up goals in Analytics and Tag manager, and then pulling into Google Ads has been the norm. But actually setting these goals to secondary, and setting up specific primary goals directly in Google Ads instead has proven to work significantly better with our clients, with many seeing anywhere between 25-35% increase in conversions.
To optimise PMax further, we tested multiple campaigns and broke them down based on brands. We added multiple asset groups and kept our listing items in a main asset group.
This approach has been successful, and the brands that were performing poorly before now give us the expected performance. We plan to further optimise and A/B test different asset groups, as the display network has worked well with multiple asset groups.
With all the new automations and extended experimenting in Google Ads, I believe it is time for us all to forget about our assumed expertise a bit, test more and rely on data more than ever. The more tests the more we have the chance to see what is performing better and what is not.
Niche, niche, niche! It doesn’t matter how efficient you are or how many SOPs you create, if you are dealing with a different industry, product, service, or even ad platform every day, you are not going to reach your goals without a very large team around you. Breadth requires people, you cannot avoid it.
We made the call to niche down in 2022 and it was the best thing we could have done. Combine that with the ads editor and Lunio, and running ads is a dream! We are pumped to continue exploring our niche in 2023.
Offline conversion tracking worked really well in 2022, and it will be a big part of what we do in 2023.
For us, it’s a game changer.
As lead generation specialists, we have always been tracking form submissions, phone calls etc. But the use of offline conversion tracking allows us to see what campaigns are leading to real sales and help calculate the real ROI.
Last year we put down stricter criteria of who we would want to work with and it has helped massively with who we pitch to now.
Now we work with brands who want to do things right and don’t take shortcuts on the important things. Meaning time saved on our side and our win rate has improved massively.
In 2022, we became very insistent on implementing the best quality conversion tracking with our clients. From the must-have ‘Purchase’ conversions to a range of positive action indicators like button clicks, file downloads and offline conversions, all these factors provided increased Ad performance clarity. Creating a sophisticated conversion tracking approach is something we’ll continue to implement and develop.
In an attempt to move away from a strict keyword match type hierarchy-based structure, as well as improve our quality scores, I’ve implemented an audience tiering approach.
I looked at audience segments that convert the best, and combined them together into new lists. I then split the ad groups up by specific tiers with different CPA targets. As a result, we saw and increase in quality scores due to improved clickthrough rate, and a good drop in cost.
Privacy-centric tracking and analytics have been fundamental themes of 2022.
Google Ads enhanced conversions, Meta’s conversions API and GA4 have been hot topics for conversation and we’ve made great strides in helping our clients adopt the new tech to future-proof their data collection and allow a more complete picture of performance.
These conversations will definitely continue into 2023 as GA4 becomes the new source of truth for most digital businesses and adapting to the different navigation, tools, and reporting measures will be crucial to ensure we continue to make the right decisions and provide the best insights.
Leveraging longer, interactive forms that help prequalify leads before it hits our CRM and sales agents was a huge win for us in 2022. This, combined with innovative solutions like Lunio, turns broader-reaching digital campaigns into well-optimised machines.
We’ve completely overhauled the way we do reporting.
Although the written narrative is crucial to our reports, it’s incredible how much of a difference the formatting of your data makes. We’re making data more digestible, providing greater context to each metric, and offering more insight that is designed to empower wider business functions.
To that end, remember to measure against targets. Providing metrics in relation to a target gives context and makes your successes really stand out. For example, think about using a bullet chart or gauge to report performance against a KPI target (CPL, ROAS etc). Or, use a calculated field to measure progress under or over a measure like budget cap.
Something I’ll be continuing from 2022 into the new year is making use of bid adjustments within my PPC campaigns, creating more ad variations even when creative and copy are working well, and making use of data insights to further improve campaign performance.
Also, I want to look at further implementing AI into my PPC ad creation, targeting, and campaign-building processes.
What 2022 Challenge Did You Learn the Most From?
It’s not easy to admit when a campaign has flopped, or an experiment has gone awry. But actually, these can be sometimes be more useful than the campaigns that went as expected. Learning how to extract important insights from failed attempts can stop you falling prey to the same PPC pitfalls in the future.
The thing I’ve learned that has helped the most is just to continuously test, embrace and enjoy our losses because we’ll learn far more from our losses rather than continuously winning.
Our best products and offerings have come from trying new things that didn’t go the way we planned at first but the revisions or new ideas that followed are what moved us forward.
The year 2022 was a challenging one for the business world, as it faced the continued effects of a global pandemic and economic downturn. Despite these trying times, however, businesses proved to be resilient and capable of rising to the occasion. In particular, many organisations learned an invaluable lesson about managing their pay-per-click (PPC) marketing during this time.
From financial difficulties to increased competition from other companies, looking for new ways to cut costs, businesses had their work cut out when it came to optimising their PPC campaigns without overextending themselves financially. This challenge only grew in scope as more and more consumers shifted online — making it essential for companies of all sizes to focus on cost efficiency while still getting maximum returns on investment.
For us, the biggest challenge was data collection and proper campaign attribution. This might sound like an old story about iOS 14, but many businesses aren’t fully prepared or established appropriate conversion tracking methods to mitigate the issues regarding privacy settings.
We noticed custom set-ups and trackings do well in conjunction with newer methods ad platforms have rolled out (e.g. Enhanced Conversion from Google).
With UA sunsetting in 2023 and the fact that many businesses aren’t aware that GA4 is a completely different product with its new tracking methodology, we as marketers, face new challenges and opportunities.
This year taught me and my team that critical thinking and soft skills should be the focus of every PPC specialist in the next few years.
There has been a powerful shift towards machine learning and automation (especially through the Performance Max campaigns), which leaves us with fewer technical tasks and more space to create complex and creative strategies for our clients.
The two biggest challenges in 2022 were the widespread rollout of Performance Max campaigns and GA4 to many of my clients. Educating not only myself but also clients about these and integrating them into campaigns/account management was definitely a challenge. Especially when Google consistently make updates and changes to them. Many clients have struggled with GA4 (as have I!), but it was a great excuse to ensure all tracking and conversions were set up properly.
It’s amazing to be able to see first-hand the impact a successful Google Ads strategy has on a business – seeing it grow and talking to clients about taking on new staff… all because the Google Ads campaigns we are running have been so successful. It’s a great feeling!
Undoubtedly everyone should have their hands full with migrating to GA4 and setting up the server-side versions of their platforms, making the jump towards the cookie-less world (or have made already).
Even though it’s such a great pain in the neck, it opens so many possibilities and opportunities with many exciting new things. One of the greatest is that many companies are willing to allocate dev resources towards this project. Make use of this buzz and emphasise the things that matter the most, before the trend is over.
The biggest challenge of 2022 was definitely the transition to Performance Max. It kicked off the biggest revolution we’ve seen in PPC in years. It changed everything and frankly made it all more exciting.
I feel like Performance Max is a new common enemy that brought the PPC community closer together this year. No more competition, but true collaboration by everyone. So although PMax was the biggest challenge in PPC this year, it brought the community closer together and made working as a Google Ads Specialist more exciting.
What have I learned the most from 2022? How incorrect conversion data can seriously break your automated bid strategies and that you can fix this by using data exclusions – what a beautiful underrated little feature this is!
Most of the challenges came from the constant Google changes especially with the launch of PMax campaigns and iOS privacy changes. In order to offset some of the cost associated with the new campaign type I focused on leveraging customer match and uploading each customer list to Google Ads for each client.
For a majority of the accounts I manage, the performance did actually improve but there is still a lot to learn and measure with PMax campaigns.
The largest pivots we learned were how to adapt to a rapidly changing economic environment. Clients particularly affected by the recession needed to pivot how they invested in paid media and in particular what channels they wanted to appear in.
What became apparent, is that we couldn’t be lazy anymore and had to use micro-moments and trigger points as the basis of our strategy rather than simply using features and differentiators. We needed to meet users where they were and not assume they’d be interested just because the product is great.
The fluctuations in paid social platforms’ ability to track results accurately and the constant fight to get certain ads approved led to a higher reliance on display and video advertising through Google Ads which saw some consistent traffic increases and some lower cost leads.
Moving forward we’ll include video (specifically YouTube bumper ads) as a key part of the monthly marketing strategy to spread brand awareness away from a handful of paid social channels.
The cost of living crisis still continues to be a huge problem for my clients and the wider population. However, it’s spurred me to look for more ‘bigger picture’ solutions, such as using research studies, data collected from external sources, articles, and even general public sentiment to ‘think outside the box’ for our clients.
The biggest takeaway has been there’s always a solution if you know where to look and using this data has helped many of my clients ‘pivot’ and stay successful even in the tough economic climate.
Changes made to the privacy landscape have had a profound impact on different digital channels, with Social taking the biggest hit. Many companies at the beginning of the year pulled all budgets out of social channels as a result of declining performance after the iOS update.
We have had to adapt quickly and look at things like server-side tracking to get some of that lost data back. We also made changes to who we take on as clients for Paid Social based on their willingness to invest in their own Analytics and measurement platforms.
The transition from smart shopping to PMax was probably the biggest PPC shift in 2022 (and the steepest learning curve). Despite Google’s best efforts to convince everyone the shift would be seamless, initially, we all had to quickly adapt and learn the best way to transition campaigns, reporting and strategies. That was then quickly followed by the challenge of learning which levers to pull to optimise and manipulate PMax in order to maximise campaign potential.
We’ve come a long way and are seeing great results, but there’s still plenty more learning and testing to do. I’m going to to keep pushing the boundaries of what PMax can achieve.
The biggest challenge from 2022 is Google’s push for automation. On the one hand, this is great for freeing up man hours and one day the necessity to have a dedicated PPC manager. But on the other hand, Google Ads is becoming a closed book with regard to how campaigns, RSA, and keywords are performing.
I can see a time when we’ll just hand Google the keys to the kingdom. Give them a budget and a ROAS we expect and they’ll run our account as they see fit, without any input from the customer.
What Did You Achieve in 2022 That You’re Proud Of?
2022 wasn’t an easy year for most businesses and agencies. The reverberations of macro-economic factors like the pandemic and the war in Ukraine triggered inflation and pushed up the cost of living in many countries. With consumers showing signs of more cautious spending, competition in the world of PPC was fierce. So which notable achievements helped out competitors surf through this wave of disruption?
After implementing RSA, we saw a 61% improvement in the overall quality score, despite a decrease in the direct impact on ads and the ability to view fewer details. We are proud of this because we tried all the experiments we could without accepting the change as it was, and conducted more A/B tests by closely observing the results to find the best possible outcomes.
Immediately, we start thinking of the 10x growth and ROAS for some of our major eCommerce brands. However, the most fulfilling achievement was the fractional improvements to one eCommerce account.
Initially, the client was sceptical that improvements were possible since their account had enjoyed over ten years of excellent in-house management. So, to be able to improve their conversion value/cost while increasing conversion was quite remarkable.
Also, proving people wrong in a positive way is a great feeling.
In Paid Social, we’ve spent a vast amount of time and money testing in the world of TikTok. TikTok’s popularity and user base has exploded, and in 2022 it became one of the most powerful Social Marketing platforms for PPC experts to tap into.
We’ve tested numerous different strategies and creative approaches and gained valuable insights, which has allowed us to scale and achieve success for our clients.
We stepped outside Google Ads to understand what could be improved on the site itself to offer a better user experience to our ideal users. We occupy a specific niche, which we can’t target directly with Google’s audience segments. This in turn means that not only does our ad copy need to be straight to the point, but the site itself needs to provide all the relevant information to the right user, incentivise them to contact us and provide a clear way to do so. With a lot of work carried out on the site, we in turn have seen improvements to our quality score.
After the success of our “banana bread index” in 2020, where we mapped conversion rates and volume against search trends for banana bread, we deployed a similar index this year to show how changes in consumer sentiment and purchasing power will impact conversion rates.
The implementation of Lunio into the business has been a great success. It was turned around within a couple of weeks and integrated across our account. We’ve found a noticeable uplift in quality traffic and a reduction in our total ad spend.
What New Approach Are You Planning to Try in 2023?
With the introduction of Performance Max and impressive new AI-drive tools like ChatGPT it’s clear automation is something many of our contributors will be focusing on next year. Others are going to attempt to take a step back and work more holistically across organic and paid. And for some, 2023 means finding new ways to efficiently create profitable video ads for platforms like TikTok and Instagram Stories.
Everything! My mantra is: test, test, test. I’ll be testing everything Google tries to shove down our throats, and I’ll be drawing my own conclusions (which I’ll share with the community as I get new insights). I’m always skeptical, but also curious. The industry is changing so fast, you can’t hang on to best practices. You have to constantly test your assumptions and that’s what I’ll keep doing.
I have no idea what 2023 will bring, but I’m ready to grab it by the horns and help the community as I learn new things.
A new approach I want to try in 2023 is using artificial intelligence to help optimise content for landing pages and ad copy at scale. We’re starting to see the real power of AI and I think it will play a huge part in PPC in 2023.
In 2023 I want to continue using research studies, data collected from external sources, articles and general public sentiment to ‘think outside the box’ for clients. If you know where to look, using this data you can ‘pivot’ and stay successful even in the tough economic climate.
The improvements in automation are taking some of the manual flexibility away with smart bidding and Performance Max campaigns, which of course can be fantastic however heavy reliance on hyper-targeted automation can take away from the bigger picture. We’ll be using PMax with other smart bidding strategies but integrating with first-party data and CRM to ensure the automation is still achieving the business objectives.
We are planning to work more holistically. With the market competition growing, businesses should get used to multi-channel, and cross-platform campaigns mixing organic and paid reach, especially on Linkedin for B2B brands where personal branding goes hand in hand with building trust in brands people represent.
At the beginning of November, Google announced that it will be phasing out its similar audiences in 2023. Similar audiences, which are very much like Meta’s lookalike audiences, target users who behave similarly to people in your remarketing lists. This has been one of many handy tools in our advertising arsenal that has generated customer success.
With similar audiences on their way out, we’re looking to its closest alternatives; audience expansion and optimised targeting. In particular, we’re planning to expand our usage of the latter.
Optimised targeting, launched in 2021, looks at what your converting users have in common. It then begins to show ads to users similar to these in order to achieve better results. We’re planning to systematically test optimised targeting against all eligible campaigns with the aim to have eliminated our need for similar audiences by the summer of 2023.
To make PMax even more effective, we are planning to break it down into multiple campaigns based on the results and ROAS of individual items, brands, and categories. We’re also planning to boost our use of dynamic ads in 2023 to get the most out of our PPC campaigns.
At Ladder, we’re looking to tackle an ever-growing cause for concern in marketing and especially, brand marketing. Which is something we’re calling “The Awareness Gap”. This, in a nutshell, involves looking at the speed at which online industries change and how consumers need help to keep up with that knowledge of said change.
Using content marketing strategies and a top-of-funnel approach, we plan on tackling this gap to drive better value customers for brands.
2023 is shaping up to be a revolutionary year for PPC marketing. The industry is exploring the implementations of artificial intelligence , introducing new ways to optimise campaigns, reduce costs and increase ROI. Companies are becoming more and more aware of how AI can improve their PPC strategies and we are looking to take advantage of this technology in the coming year.
One major change in PPC that companies are beginning to look into is the integration of AI-driven automation tools. Automation not only allows marketers to set up campaigns quickly but also ensures campaign consistency across multiple platforms. Additionally, these automated systems can use machine learning algorithms and predictive analytics to target potential customers with greater accuracy than before.
By using these tools, marketers will be able to get better results from their campaigns without spending as much time or money on them as they would have before.
I’m so excited about the impact OpenAI will have for Google Ad agencies. I have been blown away by how sophisticated and accurate it is, and I’m really enjoying testing it out. I’ve been looking into how we might use it for landing page copy, ad headlines and descriptions, Google Ad scrips, competitor research and social media posts.
There is so much potential for this tool to help all businesses, and although it’s still in its infancy, the impact has already been huge!
I’m trying to automate certain manual checks by setting up rules to get email notifications when something could be wrong on an account or needs action i.e. overspend, underspend, no conversions after X days etc. Also, I’ll be looking to build negative keywords lists at MCC level to help save time!
Simplify as many processes as possible to improve efficiency: that’s going to be the mantra for 2023.
We want to take more creative risks in 2023.
We’ve seen video content dominate the market and with that comes the need to be more creative while also being cost-efficient in production. This takes some inherent risk as it will be more expensive to produce new creative but completely necessary.
Users are also getting more comfortable with ‘lo-fi’ creatives with TikTok ads and Reels on Instagram so we have some wiggle room to put our thinking caps on.
PPC in 2023: Doing More With Less
Some marketing budgets have been frozen. And many more are being cut. So most brands are attempting to do everything they can this year to spend smarter, not harder.
In a recent webinar, we spoke to Gareth Westhead, Head of Paid Media at Clickoo, about maximising performance marketing efficiency. You can watch the recording of the session below.
Gareth has been driving growth for B2B and B2C brands for over 15 years and is focused on using data to improve decisions and drive performance. Expect to learn:
- The most common causes of wasted ad spend (and how to fix them)
- Exclusion audience strategies to quickly improve your ROAS
- The PPC benefits and risks of new AI-driven tools like ChatGPT
- How to achieve better results with automated campaign types like PMax
- And lots more!
If you’d prefer to read a written version of the webinar, check out the blog below, complete with a TL;DR section of key takeaways if you’re short on time.