Episode 1: Google Shopping changes, ITP and a core algorithm update

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What's in this episode?

Mark Williams-Cook and Rob Lewis will be discussing:

Google Ads Shopping Updates Google is merging Google Images with the standard Search Network for Shopping Campaigns, this means you can no longer opt-out of having shopping ads showing on Google Images.

Apple's ITP v2.1 is going to disrupt Analytics The new Intelligent Tracking Prevention going live in Safari 12.1 and iOS 12.2 will automatically expire cookies than are more than 7 days old, which will inflate Google Analytics metrics.

Google's broad core algorithm In a rare confirmation, Google has announced they are pushing a large, 'broad, core' algorithm update. We'll be discussing the impact and Google's advice on what to do.

Podcast transcription:

Show note links:

Simo Ahava - ITP 2.1 And Web Analytics:

Link to Google’s advice on core algorithm updates:

MC: Welcome to episode 1 of the Search with Candour podcast, recorded on Friday 15th March 2019, my name is Mark Williams-Cook and I’m joined today by Rob Lewis

RL: Hello!

MC: ..and we’re going to take about 15 minutes to run through the most important search news of the week, hopefully make your lives a bit easier.

We’ve been quite lucky actually, in the last week or so, because there’s 3 really important things that have come up.

The first is some PPC news. There’s been changes in Google Ads, specifically Shopping campaigns and the launch of a new Google Shopping Ad Format.

The second thing is, changes to Apple’s ITP which is Intelligent Tracking Prevention in Safari 12.1, which is currently in beta. That’s an important thing to know about because it’s likely to cause some disruption a lot of disruption within Analytics and actually quite a lot of javascript-based tracking.

Thirdly, Google are currently rolling out what they are describing as a broad, core algorithm update, so we’ve started to see some rankings shift there, so we’ve got a little bit about that.

Let’s kick off with Google Ads. On the 8th of March, Google sent out email entitled: Changes to the Search Network for your Shopping campaigns

Google Images is a visually rich surface and a key part of millions of users' shopping journeys every day. Users frequently turn to Google Images for idea exploration, how-to guidance, product discovery and visual imagery related to key shopping categories like fashion, home and beauty.

We are excited to announce that we will be integrating Google Images into our core Search Network in late March. This means Shopping ads, that you are already familiar with, will now automatically be eligible* to appear in Google Images results when users are searching for relevant keywords.

What this means for your Shopping campaigns:

All of your Shopping ads will be automatically eligible to serve on Google Images. You will no longer have to opt into the Search Partner Network to show Shopping ads on Google Images.

If your campaigns currently run on the Search Partner Network — you may see a decrease in traffic coming in from Search Partner Network and an increase in traffic coming from the Search Network. This is because Google Images was previously a part of the Search Partner Network and there’s a note here that says that: Historical Google Images traffic will not be re-categorised from the Search Partner Network to Search Network. I guess they’re saying it’s not going to retroactively update the source of that traffic.

If your campaigns are not currently opted into the Search Partner Network — your ads will start showing on Google Images and as a result there may be a 3-10% increase in traffic at lower cost per click and comparable conversion rates.

Well that sounds a bit too good to be true.

Rob, you’re working with PPC accounts every day, what does this practically mean for those that are running Google Shopping campaigns?

RL: So basically, to summarise all of that, Google has just announced it’s merging Google Images with the standard Search Network for Shopping Campaigns, rather than listing Google Images under Search Partners.

This means you can no longer opt out of having shopping ads showing on Google Images. You have to show your Shopping Ads on Google Images.

This may seem great, this may seem like you’ve received a brand new channel, in effect, another medium for showcasing your shopping ads but there are many reasons why you’d want to exclude advertising on the Search Partners Network.

The first is: Typically, your Search Partners generates a lower conversion rate naturally, anway, which means a lower ROI, so lower profits for many advertisers. Although, that’s not necessarily a definite. There are cases for some advertisers that the Search Partners Network generates a better ROI, or better conversion rates, although in my experience that’s in the minority of cases.

For many advertisers excluding Search Partners gives more leeway for increasing bids and visibility on your standard Shopping campaigns, so you can increase bids, drive additional traffic within your target Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) and therefore just increase profits, generally.

Typically, you would use a data-led approach and you would look at performance over several months, several years and just see how Search Partners had converted in comparison to the standard Search Network. In many cases it converts poorly, so you would simply exclude it.

MC: It does make me suspicious when Google is saying they’re going to give us traffic at an on average lower cost per click, because that does normally mean lower quality.

RL: Yeah.

MC: We’ve actually seen these forced, I think ‘forced’ in is the right word, forced changes before in Google Ads. The one that occurs to me is when, and I don’t know how many years ago it was now, when Google moved from Exact Match to what they now call Closed-Variant. So that’s when originally in Google Adwords, we used to be able to just target a very exact search term and now Google by default allows minor variations and very similar searches through the net.

I think in many cases, actually, that’s turned out to be helpful for a lot of advertisers, there was a lot of backlash I remember at the time about that and like you’re saying now, about people wanting to have full control over their accounts. But it turned out because of the diversity of searches, a lot of advertisers were missing out on some really longtail stuff that’s working.

Do you think in this case, with the Google Shopping changes, there’s any potential benefits like that?

RL: Well it’s interesting that you should mention the Exact Match to Closed-Variant change that they made several years back because, you’re right, there was a backlash - but actually - it was a really good, data-led change. It’s a data-led change you can actually check and compare Exact Match searches vs Closed-Variant searches and in many cases, the Closed-Variant searches have a higher conversion rates and therefore drive more profit for advertisers.

However, in this particular change, you are not going to be able to segment the difference between Shopping Ads that show on Google Images and Shopping Ads that display in the normal search results, so I have some concerns over this particular change.

Having said that, I think there are some good changes that could be made. They’ve recently announced a new Google Shopping Ad format off the back of this announcement. They’ve not explained precisely how it will work, but the example image they’ve shown of this new ad format is it will work somewhat like an interactive ad format, but specifically for Google Images.

So that’s a new ad format Google are hinting they’re going to be releasing sometime soon. It’s possible that will be their method of manually opting-in to Google Images, but a separate email I’ve received, following this announcement from Google is that you can’t opt-out of this change, so I suspect at the moment it’s still just something you’re going to have to live with and go from there, really.

MC: Is there anything PPC managers, can be doing now to adapt to that change?

RL: I think the most important thing to is to A) be aware of that change and know it’s taking place, because quite often these major changes slip under the radar of many advertisers and make huge impacts to the performance of their pay per click campaigns before they even know why. So, that’s the most important thing: be aware of the change! And second, to monitor the impact from the point of that change and as always, optimise, optimise, optimise and optimise until you get a better return on investment and your campaign is working for you.

MC: Cool, thanks, Rob.

Talking about monitoring, tracking - it looks like it’s going to get harder because of some changes Apple’s making to ITP, so Intelligent Tracking Prevention.

For those that don’t know Apple’s ITP launched in 2017 and is on by default and was originally designed to help prevent cross-site tracking and unwanted third parties collecting data without knowledge or consent, which is fair enough. There’s a lot of that going on and a lot of it, isn’t particularly helpful for the end user.

However, part of the update to the Intelligent Tracking Prevention, so this is version 2.1 is this:

All persistent client-side cookies, i.e. persistent cookies created through document.cookie, are capped to a seven day expiry.

This means in effect, that any JavaScript library wanting to store a cookie in the web browser, will have that cookie capped to a seven day lifetime. After seven days it’s been created from, it will expire and will be removed from the browser.

This is currently on by default in the beta releases of iOS 12.2, Safari 12.1 on macOS High Sierra and Mojave, all of these are carrying the updated version of ITP.

What this means for us as marketers is essentially, a lot of our marketing technology platforms are relying on client-side, first-party cookies, so this means it will affect the default implementation of things like Google Analytics, Google Ads, Facebook, affiliate tracking.

In practise, the basic metrics such as users will be artificially inflated, because they’re coming to the site and after seven days, if they’re coming back they’re not going to be recognised as a returning visitor. They’re going to be seen as a new visitor. It’s an interesting change, generally I think cross-site tracking is a bad thing but it does seem to have the potential for some collateral damage. Google Analytics, there’s a lot of, I’ll say ‘us’ as marketers that are using that tool to optimise performance of our sites and to make the user experience better. The ITP 2.1 is going to make some of those things very difficult, giving us some difficulty with basic metrics

There is an incredibly detailed technical write up by Simo Ahava (apologies for incorrect pronunciation, Simo, my notes were incorrect!) - I’ve put it in the show notes on, there you can get the transcription of this episode and the related links.

Simo gives a really good breakdown of the technical side of ITP and there are some possible workarounds that look like they’re coming and I think it will be really interesting to see what action Google will take with things like Google Analytics because I assume they’re not going to take this lying down and just let their Analytics platform take a hit like this.

It’s just want you wanted really, isn’t it, Rob? I mean, attribution modelling is so easy at the best of times, this will make it even easier for you.

RL: Yea, great. I can’t wait. Actually, it’s interesting because quite a lot of the clients I deal with on pay per click have a lead consideration time sometimes in excess of sixty days. So, it’s going to be interesting monitoring the initial click through to the lead being generated when the lead time is longer than seven days, so we’ll see how that turns out.

MC: Okay, and lastly we want to talk about a Google update. So, two days ago on the 13th March the Google Search Liason, Danny Sullivan tweeted: “This week, we released a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. Our guidance about such updates remains as we’ve covered before. Please see these tweets for more about that:” As far as SEO announcements go, it’s sparked quite a lot of interest in the search community. I think that’s because it’s quite rare nowadays for Google to officially confirm that they’ve made an algorithm change. Normally, they kind of leave it to us to notice things are changing quite drastically and then they might throw us a bone as a clue as to what’s happening, so this is a little bit different. There’s been some comments from the Google side indicating this may be one of the bigger updates they’ve pushed in the last few years.

It’s still really too early to say what kind of sites may have been affected by this update - and unless actually you’re running third party ranking monitoring of your rankings, you won’t have any ranking data come through in Google Search Console yet.

It’s worth noting as well, although Google says they’ve done this algorithm update they generally take a matter of weeks to kind of propagate around the web before we see what the effect is.

Google’s advice that Danny Sullivan on broad core algorithm updates has been this:

Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Some are focused around specific improvements. Some are broad changes. Last week, we released a broad core algorithm update. We do these routinely several times per year.

As with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded.

There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.

Link to Google’s advice on core algorithm updates:

I think it is important to take this advice on board actually, for several reasons. Firstly, everytime we’re seeing an algorithm update, we have to bear in mind all we’re seeing is Google close this technical gap that exists between what they’re trying to achieve with their end goal, which is, however you want to interpret it, providing users with the highest satisfaction search results.

There are always technical nuances we need to pay attention to, but if you’re getting hung up on specifics, on ranking factors, it probably in my opinion means your overall SEO strategy is wrong.

If you do see any negative impacts on your rankings over the next week or so, it might be worth taking a step back and comparing your site and content to competitors and seeing if the root of the problem lies there - rather than trying to work out if Google’s adjusted a knob or a lever somewhere and there’s ranking factor you can take advantage of. This is more about Google working out which content is good, so that is where I would start.

Okay, that’s everything for our inaugural episode, I hope you’ve enjoyed it! The next episode is scheduled to go out on Monday 25th March.

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