23/07/2023 • Thomas Chappell
The birth of search ads can be traced back to October 23, 2000, with the launch of Google AdWords, which later became Google Ads. Initially, ads were shown on the right-hand side of search results on a pay-per-impression basis. Over the years, Google Ads evolved significantly, introducing quality scores, relevance-based rankings, display network, conversion tracking, automation, and various ad extensions. The search landscape has also seen dynamic search ads, image extensions, auction insights, expanded text ads, responsive search ads, lead form extensions, and other changes. The future of search ads is expected to be driven by AI, AR, and VR technologies, providing advertisers with more sophisticated tools to engage and convert their audience.
October 23, 2000, will be a date forever remembered by internet marketers, as this was the start of the first ever self-serve online advertising platform – Google AdWords. Google has gone on since then to become a multi-billion-dollar advertising system and the most frequented self-serve advertising platform that exists today. In this article, we will dive into the history of Google AdWords now known as Google Ads and cover off some of the most significant changes to Search over the years.
After initial testing was successful in 1999, Google AdWords initially launched in October of the following year, on a pay-per-impression basis and only on the right-hand side of the search results. Not above the organic results that we are used to now.
Users would sign up on a completely self-serve basis and set how much they were willing to pay per thousand impressions (or times the ad showed). Whoever was bidding the most would appear higher up on the page. At this stage, there was no mention of Quality Score and very few spam ad regulations.
By the end of their first year, Google ads had returned over $70 million, making it an instant success despite being beaten financially by the then pay-per-click (PPC) format of Overture. Which is now owned by Yahoo.
The competitive nature of Google’s chief executives led to a call for pay-per-click ads, but in 2002 Google went one step further, rewarding positions based on relevance as well as higher bids. The position an ad would rank in would depend on a score, which took into account both relevancy and the price the advertiser was willing to pay. This meant that the businesses advertising towards the top of the page became trusted with Google users, and as the only form of advertising in the world to be doing this, Google became a favourite among advertisers compared to its rivals. This was because customers could easily decipher the trusted ads compared to other spam ads which had no relevance to their search.
Later in the year, an agreement was reached with AOL, who at the time was a dominant force. The agreement gave users the option to show their ads on Google partner search engines, increasing the reach of the ads.
In 2005, Google built on its adverts in search results and added site-targeted ads (the display network) to its arsenal. AdWords users could leverage the display network to show ads on websites that were signed up for the Google AdSense program.
Choosing which domains or keywords they would link their ads with and bidding only on a CPM (cost per thousand impressions) basis. Many advertisers at the time took up the opportunity to use animated GIF files and show moving images.
In the same year, conversion tracking was added, meaning advertisers could finally track which keywords, ads and campaigns were leading to inquiries and sales. The most recent version of the Google keyword tool was also released, meaning that people could research the impressions and competition of particular keywords. This is now known as the Keyword Planner
In 2008 Google struck a deal with Double Click, which changed the face of display ads and allowed advertisers to show much more relevant and advanced display ads across the Google network.
Despite a regular increase in customers and extensive marketing campaigns, we still see many new features added to our AdWords campaigns, such as the recently added Insights for Auction (2012); call conversions, whereby users can track who has telephoned them (2011); and keyword variation options (2012).
We are gradually seeing the introduction of different ad extensions and site links whereby users can bulk their ads up by showing their address, links to alternative pages, their products, their ratings across Google’s trusted review sites and telephone number extensions.
We have also seen automation be a key part of Google’s platform with Performance Max campaigns being introduced as a mix of search, display, shopping and app campaigns all balled into one mega campaign. This was added on November 21st 2021. Not only this but automation has even changed the way we bid on keywords with automated bidding strategies finding optimal ways to bid on keywords such as Max Conversions and Max Clicks.
As we know, the SERPs have evolved greatly over time and very much continue to. We’ve seen Search ads move from basic text results to the now very user-centric, dynamic results we see today. The functionalities available to us are more creative and the strategies adopted by advertisers even more so. Understanding the changes (and keeping up with them) is paramount to staying on top. Here are some of the most significant changes to date:
Dynamic Search Ads (DSA) were introduced by Google in 2011. This feature enables advertisers to automatically generate ad headlines and landing pages based on the content of their website. Google's machine learning algorithms analyse the website's content and match relevant search queries to display dynamically generated ads. DSA provides a time-saving solution for advertisers with extensive websites and frequently updated content, ensuring that their ads stay relevant and aligned with their website offerings.
Recognizing the power of visual content, Google introduced Image Extensions for search ads in 2013. Advertisers can now include relevant images alongside their ad copy, making their ads more visually appealing and engaging. Image Extensions come in two forms: normal and dynamic. Normal Image Extensions allow advertisers to select specific images to showcase, while Dynamic Image Extensions automatically display images from relevant landing pages. By incorporating images into their search ads, advertisers can capture users' attention more effectively and drive higher click-through rates.
Auction Insights is a valuable tool provided by Google Ads that allows advertisers to gain valuable competitive intelligence. It was implemented in 2013. It provides insights into how their ads are performing compared to their competitors in the same auctions. Advertisers can analyse metrics like impression share, average position, and overlap rate to identify opportunities for improvement and develop effective bidding strategies.
As user expectations evolved, search ads underwent a significant change. In 2016, Google replaced the traditional text ad format with Expanded Text Ads. This update allows advertisers to include three headlines and two descriptions, providing more space to convey their message and capture users' attention effectively. The shift to Expanded Text Ads enabled advertisers to create more engaging and informative ad copy, leading to improved click-through rates and conversions.
To further enhance ad performance and streamline campaign management, Google introduced Responsive Search Ads in 2018. This innovative ad format enables advertisers to provide multiple headlines and descriptions, and Google's machine learning algorithms automatically optimise the ad combinations based on user behaviour and preferences. Responsive Search Ads offer increased flexibility, improved relevancy, and the ability to reach a broader audience, making them an essential tool for advertisers looking to maximise their campaign's impact.
Lead Form Extensions were introduced in 2019, offering a streamlined way for advertisers to generate leads directly from their search ads. When users click on the lead form extension, a pre-filled form appears, allowing them to easily submit their contact information. This extension simplifies the lead generation process, enhancing user experience and enabling advertisers to capture leads more efficiently.
To establish a stronger brand presence in search ads, Google introduced Business Name and Logo Assets in 2020. Advertisers can now showcase their brand logo alongside their business name, increasing brand recognition and credibility. This feature allows advertisers to create visually consistent and impactful ad experiences, fostering trust and familiarity with their audience.
In February 2021, Google removed the broad match modifier for keywords. Previously, advertisers could use the broad match modifier (+keyword) to indicate that certain terms must be present in the user's search query for their ad to appear. With this change, advertisers now rely on broad match and phrase match keywords to reach a wider audience, with Google's algorithms automatically incorporating close variants.
In a recent update, Google removed the ability to create new Expanded Text Ads. The exact date of this change can vary as it depends on when advertisers started migrating to Responsive Search Ads. Advertisers now primarily focus on creating Responsive Search Ads to leverage machine learning and optimise ad performance. While existing Expanded Text Ads continue to run, advertisers are encouraged to transition to Responsive Search Ads to take full advantage of the latest ad format.
Google Ads is forever changing with more and more improvements and tweaks coming to the platform such as a new UI currently being implemented across Google Ads. Different attribution methods have been added and used with Data-Driven Attribution now being the recommended method from Google.
As search ads continue to evolve, we can expect further advancements driven by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), and virtual reality (VR). Advertisers will have more sophisticated tools at their disposal to target, engage, and convert their audience.
At 43 Clicks North, we stay at the forefront of these trends, leveraging the power of search ads to help businesses thrive in the digital realm. Our expert team combines the art of compelling copywriting with data-driven strategies, ensuring that your search ad campaigns deliver exceptional results.
The journey from the launch of Google AdWords in 2000 to the modern-day Google Ads has been remarkable. From their humble beginnings as simple text-based listings to their current state as dynamic and interactive ad experiences, search ads have come a long way. They have become an integral part of digital marketing strategies, enabling businesses to connect with their target audience effectively. By embracing the evolution of search ads and staying ahead of the curve, you can unlock the full potential of online advertising and achieve remarkable success in your marketing endeavours.
Throughout the years, search ads have evolved to become more user-centric and engaging, with features like dynamic search ads, image extensions, and responsive search ads allowing advertisers to deliver relevant content and attract higher click-through rates. The removal of Expanded Text Ads and the constant implementation of new features, like the new UI and data-driven attribution, demonstrate that Google Ads will continue to adapt and improve.
The future of search ads holds even greater potential with emerging technologies like AI, AR, and VR, promising more sophisticated targeting capabilities and immersive ad experiences. As the digital landscape evolves, staying at the forefront of these advancements will be crucial for advertisers to thrive in the competitive online advertising space.
A monthly round up of our expert insights, tips and careers - straight to your inbox.