2018 was a year of monumental changes for businesses advertising with Google. At the start of the year, many of us were still getting used to the new advertising interface.  Little did we know that there were many more huge changes to come!

Here is a recap of the most important changes that you need to be keeping up with, to ensure that your Google Advertising stays competitive.

1)    Google Ads rebranding

In July, Google underwent a rebranding of Google AdWords to Google Ads. This took many people by surprise considering that the platform has retained the same name since its inception in the year 2000.

The rebrand is an indication that the platform is no longer driven purely by keywords.  In the future we can expect to see more options for ‘Smart campaigns’ with machine learning being used to optimise targeting, ad copy and ad placement.

The name change also reflects the variety of advertising formats that are available.  Whereas the term ‘Words’ may bring up an association with Google Search, there’s also the option to advertise using video, display image ads, in-app and Google Shopping – all from the same advertising platform.

2)    Larger Search Ads

Google is obviously keen to have their advertising as a prominent part of their search engine results.  In 2016, they increased the size allowed for adverts with a format called expanded text ads or ETA’s.

In 2018, they have made changes to allow you to create even larger adverts (improved expanded text ads) for the Search Network. The changes are as follows:

Old Ads (2016)

New Ads (2018)

2 Headlines (30 characters each) 3 Headlines (30 characters each)
1 Description line (80 characters) 2 Description lines (90 characters each)


The new larger adverts give you the opportunity to create ad copy that appeals to a wider audience. It also allows you to include more features/benefits of your product or service.

When writing new ad copy, you should be aware that the extra headline and description does not always show up.  So, the advert needs to make sense if you have 2 or 3 headlines and 1 or 2 descriptions being displayed.

3)    Three ads per ad group

Google now recommend that you have 3 adverts per ad group.  This is to allow the Google machine learning system to test what messages resonate with your target audience. Provided you have ad rotation set to “Optimise: Prefer best performing ads”, you should see your click through rate (CTR) increase.

According to Google, “Research has shown that ad groups with 3 or more high-quality ads can get up to 5% to 15% more clicks or conversions than ad groups with only 1 ad, provided ad rotation has been optimized.”

Independent research by Wordstream has confirmed that click through rate increases with the increasing number of ads in an ad group.

increase in ctr

If your ad groups only contain 1 or 2 ads, you may find that Google has created automated ‘Ad Suggestions’ for you.  This is a new feature in 2018, where a mixture of human review and machine learning is used to create an advert.  You’ll have 14 days to review the ad in the ‘Recommendations’ section of your account, after which it will go live.

Our experience with this feature to date has been hit and miss.  Some of the suggestions have been good and have led to good CTR’s, others have been dreadful and obviously created by a machine. Until the machine learning algorithm gets better, we would recommend that you exercise caution with this feature and check all ad copy before it goes live.

4)    Responsive Search Ads

Another interesting format of search ad that was introduced this year was the responsive search ad. This allows you to write up to 15 headlines and up to 4 descriptions, then Google will automatically start testing variations of these to serve to visitors.

The idea is that through machine learning, it should be possible to come up with one or more combinations that work to achieve your stated campaign objective.

The final advert presented to the user is similar to improved expanded text ads.  They can have up to 3 headlines and up to 2 descriptions.

To get good results try to make each headline highlight a distinct feature, benefit, offer or call to action. There is the option to ‘pin’ a headline or description to a particular position, but this does cut down the ad variations that can be tried and optimised. If possible, you should aim to write ad copy that would make sense in a variety of positions in the ad.

5)    Keyword match types

This is a big change for many advertisers. The upshot of this change is that your ads may start showing up for less relevant search queries.

In September, Google announced that exact match targeting could include ‘close variants’ that share the same meaning as your keyword.  This could include synonyms, paraphrases or the same implied intent.

This is the latest case of ‘moving the goalposts’ for exact match targeting. It used to be the case that if you had an exact match keyword [red shoes] in your account, your advert would only be triggered when somebody exactly typed that phrase into the search bar.

In 2014, Google announced that plurals or misspellings could be included. Then in 2017, they announced that word order and function words may be ignored.

So how do the latest changes in 2018 affect how your keywords could trigger adverts? Google have used this diagram to explain the effect.

exact match google ad query

The result of this is that you are likely to see more clicks being regarded as ‘exact match’. For some accounts, this has not had any noticeable effect.  But Brad Geddes’ in-depth study has reported on numerous businesses that have suffered a drop in conversion rates or increase in cost per conversion.

If you are concerned about a drop in performance, your first place to look is in your search query report. This shows the exact search terms that are being triggered by your keywords.  From here, you can decide if you need to add negative keywords at a campaign or ad group level.

6)    Google Ad Grants for non-profits

In 2018 Google tightened up on the limitations required to run a campaign for a non-profit organisation using the Google Ad Grants scheme. This scheme allows a qualifying non-profit organisation to receive up to $10,000 in free ad clicks a month.

The problem was that the system was being abused by people who just used the scheme as free money and didn’t do any optimisation of the account.  I have carried out audits on accounts that contained unrelated, single-word keyword targeting, with no negative keywords.  This is something that you’d never do if you were paying for the advertising.

The biggest change is that the account must maintain a click through rate of 5%.  This should help ensure that the targeting is relevant and useful to visitors.

A summary of the requirements are as follows:

  • Maintain a click through rate of 5%
  • Run the account in US dollars
  • Have a max bid of $2 per click (or use maximise conversions)
  • Submit an annual survey
  • Use accurate conversion tracking
  • Use relevant geographical targeting
  • Not use single-word keywords
  • Not run any keywords with a quality score of 1 or 2
  • Have good campaign structure including at least 2 ad groups per campaign and 2 ads per ad group. Should also have at least 2 sitelink ad extensions

Next steps

If you’ve read the whole of this article, you couldn’t help but be struck by how Google is moving towards machine learning becoming an increasingly important part of the Google Advertising platform.  Does this mean that we can leave it all to an algorithm to sort out our advertising? No, far from it!

To get the best out of machine learning, you need to carefully set up your account and ad creatives to work properly. This actually requires more knowledge of how the platform works than it did a few years ago.

If you want help in optimising your account to take advantage of the latest changes, contact us for an informal chat or a free Google Ads audit.