Meet BERT – Google’s Latest Update

Google’s algorithm updates have always had a significant impact on how marketers handle their SEO efforts, but their latest update – BERT – has been heralded as the most important update in five years, and is set to impact 10% of search queries. But what exactly is BERT, and what impact will it have on organic search as we know it?

The Future of Search is Conversational

In recent years, we’ve all heard that marketing is conversational, but BERT shows that Google has firmly subscribed to this. With voice search becoming increasingly popular thanks to the rise of smart speakers, Google’s latest update is designed to help Search better understand natural language and more conversational queries. 

BERT stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, and is a “deep learning algorithm”. The algorithm seeks to give context to Google Search queries so that Google can understand a user’s more natural searches. Sometimes, the context of a search is crucial to getting the right results – for example, there are many different uses of the word “type”. When considered on their own, you might receive results that are entirely irrelevant to these kinds of words. It’s the context around the rest of the query that demonstrates specifically what a user wants. 

Given that there has been a trend towards longtail search terms, particularly as people talk rather than type their queries, this update provides the opportunity for content creators to go back and retest content that might not have been as successful previously. As Google begins to understand search terms with the context of their intent, you may find engagement rising where previously it had remained low. 

Success after BERT

To ensure your organic search success after the rollout of BERT, you’ll want to ensure that your content is well written, and uses words precisely. If your content or pages are unclear, it makes it more difficult for Google to understand the overall context. When developing content, be sure to keep the user front of mind; having a clear focus on the point your page is trying to make. By writing for users, Google is better able to understand the context and relationship between words and hence make sure you’re appearing for the most relevant searches.

The full impact of BERT is still unclear, but what we can already see is the continuing optimisation towards conversational voice searches. Context will be incredibly important, ensuring that you continue to appear on the most relevant searches. Focus on precision, and you’ll likely see the benefit for your organic search.

Why Ad-Blocking is at a Three Year Low.

If you were to say you’ve never been irritated by an ad or pop-up, you’d be lying. With pop-ups and banners appearing on most sites, it’s no surprise that consumers have turned to ad-blockers in an effort to avoid them. Google’s even developing an update that will potentially prevent the use of ad-blockers on their search platform.

Last year, a survey from the Association for Online Publishing (AOP) took an in-depth look at the trends in ad-blocker use. The results showed that online ad-blocking was at an all-time high in 2016, with 30.6% of ads being restricted by ad-blocking programs.

Ad-blocking is a clear message from consumers that our ads do not serve them. Having been so overrun with banners and pop-ups, they have developed the belief that ads are ‘frustrating, unwanted and irrelevant’. So, advertisers have been forced to change tact.

It seems to have worked; with the AOP also highlighting that ad-blocking hit its lowest point in the last three years during Q4 of 2018 – falling to an incredible 10.3% . So what have we done to change the industry, to change the mindset of an online mass?


There are a number of ways for advertisers to place customer interest at the core of our campaigns; as discussed by Product Development Manager Fred Maude in last summer’s NMPignite seminar. By providing users with valuable experiences, we can begin to alleviate the rise in ad blocking. With the development of AI and more sophisticated data collection methods, we can make ads which are more personalised than ever.  Precise user information allows us to alter advertising creatives and placement to have maximum impact.

The Customer is ALWAYS right” Fred Maude

In short; If we deliver something that is tailored to their wants and needs, they will be more likely to engage with the ad.

User Experience

In order to make campaigns more customer-centric, we must consider the user experience as a whole. Using cookies and integrated data, we are able to build a greater picture of the user in order to connect with them and encourage engagement. Content should be created around their needs and help them identify how the brand can solve their unique problems.

A big part of the online experience involves the way consumers react to ads. Interestingly, choice can play a big role in this, with 79% of customers claiming they would consider uninstalling an ad blocker if they had the choice to close, skip, or ignore ads. This provides the option to engage in the content or not and can offer more accurate data on impressions and conversion rates.

Similarly, consider an advert that is not only customer-centric, but also contextual to the consumer’s current phase of the online journey. By placing ads on contextually relevant sites, and remarketing products that customers have already engaged with, we can change the function of the ad to a ‘helpful shopping tool’. This, paired with the rise of online shopping and ‘browsing culture’ has allowed ads to hold their own.

It’s clear that the consumer experience of Display and PPC ads has changed dramatically in recent years. The decrease in blocker use clearly reveals that advertising strategies have shifted  In a way that users are responding well to.

With this in mind, ensure that your ads focus on customer centricity and the user experience. This will allow us to continue to improve our audience’s relationship with advertising.

Boosting Performance with Expanded Text Ads

Last August, Google expanded the character limits within their text ads in SA360, ahead of the Responsive Search Ads launch tipped to launch in autumn this year. In true NMPi fashion, we’ve been testing the effect of the increased SERP real estate on campaign performance.

What are they?

The extra character limits are designed to give you more room to convey your message to the user. It allows you to add a third headline, a second description, and use up to 90 characters for each description. Ultimately, giving you much more control over your messaging.

With these larger ads you’re able to take up more space on the SERP, meaning that the top spot is even more lucrative. Note that sometimes your ads might be cut short if there isn’t enough space. So, make sure your copy still works without the third headline or second description.

What can you do with them?

The most obvious thing you can do with the extra characters is include more detail. You have more space to provide more information about your product or service. It’s easier to call out any offers or deals, or your USP. With all of this additional information, users are more likely to click on your ads.

It also gives you another opportunity to test your messaging within your ads. There are greater variations which you can compare to discover which resonates best with your audience.

Google claims that these longer ads receive 15% more clicks than other formats, so we decided to test it for ourselves.

How do they perform?

We ran a preliminary test between the standard text format and the new expanded format. By the end of the test, we could clearly see the difference in performance. Impressions for the expanded format were significantly higher, matched by higher clicks. In fact, we also saw a 10% uplift in CTR.


The campaign did see a lower conversion rate, however, this may be attributed to the 30-day cookie window and the short period in which the expanded format has been available to test.

It is easy to see how effective the expanded text ads are: more impressions, more clicks, and higher click-through-rate. We highly recommend taking advantage of the extended character limits and testing their performance for yourself but do keep an eye on your conversion rates.

Google Express – The Neutral Marketplace?

What is Google Express?

Google Express has been around for a while in the US, but it has enjoyed a recent rise to prominence after removing its subscription fees to become a completely free service, as well as expanding the number of stores it partners with on its marketplace. As a response to Amazon’s overwhelming dominance as a hub for online shopping, Google Express offers users the opportunity to shop local groceries, gadgets, and luxuries, all from one site.

At first glance, Google Express sounds identical to Amazon, but there is one striking difference. Where Amazon houses its vast stock in warehouses, Google Express delivers products directly from local retailers. This leads to a particular constraint on their marketplace, since you can only order from specified stores and must reach a minimum spend per-store to receive free shipping ($25 or $35 for most stores).

However, looking at the retail giants like Target and Walmart, who have signed up for Google Express, this new venture is becoming a real contender.

What does Google Express aim to achieve?

The reason these heavyweights are being attracted to Google Express is that Google has positioned itself as a neutral marketplace, not competing against third-party retailers. In other words, Google doesn’t own any of the products it is selling, as Amazon does, so the success of third-party retailers is its main focus. They aim to promote and nurture customer loyalty, providing great customer experience and helping to expand the retailers’ digital touchpoints. Ultimately, this will save retailers time and allow them to focus on other channels.

Google Express brings a whole new service offering into Google’s already immense eCommerce portfolio. By showcasing a vast number of products from a variety of stores on one marketplace, Google has developed a powerful platform to further synergise its online AdWords solution with its offline logistics solution.

Below is an example of a Google Shopping PLA, where the listed merchant is, you guessed it, Google Express. This ad takes you through to the Google Express marketplace where you are able to complete your purchase, entirely through Google services. Expect this to be an increasingly frequent occurrence as Google inevitably ramps up its all-encompassing collective shopping service.

Getting ready for the dominion of voice

Not only do we expect Google Express to dominate in Google Shopping results, but it also allows users to search, browse and purchase products through their voice search feature, Google Assistant.

Though Amazon’s Alexa can also be used to browse and order products on the Amazon marketplace, all through voice, this requires an Alexa-enabled device and Prime membership. Google Assistant, on the other hand, is a free to use voice service and is compatible with multiple devices, including smartphones as well as Google Home.

We can expect to see voice-purchasing rising to new heights in the near future. 

Amazon vs Google

With Amazon already dominating around half of all eCommerce transactions, Google Express will have a real battle on its hands. It’s unlikely that they, or anyone for that matter, will be able to trump Amazon’s delivery service, especially with two-hour delivery available for Prime members. When time and convenience are an increasingly important factor for consumers, this is a big tick in Amazon’s box.

As we’ve already seen, Google Express is positioning itself as a neutral marketplace, available to all, with no membership fees. This has a certain appeal, but will consumers really shift their purchasing behaviour when they are so used to visiting the merchant’s website? This is why so much hope for Google Express comes from their belief that voice-driven search and shopping will take off dramatically in the near future.

Google is thoroughly engrained in the lives of many online users, from Gmail to Google Search. This makes them well placed to take over online shopping. But ultimately, when you’re able to shop everything (including fresh fruit & veg) from one site – Amazon – and in one basket, to be delivered at a time most convenient to you, who would choose otherwise?

What does the future hold with Google Express?

As Google expands its powerful array of products and services, expect these to become increasingly integrated with each other. With some of the biggest retailers flocking to Google Express, this could well become an eCommerce platform to rival Amazon, particularly with the rise of voice search.

As digital marketers, we need to consider how Google Express could change the advertising landscape. For instance, it is already present in Google Shopping results, showcasing some of their leading brands. As these eCommerce giants develop their new initiatives, we should prepare for a game-changing phenomenon and Google Express could be the one to watch.

Whilst, it is currently only available in the US and there is no international shipping available keep an eye on this space. Google has not announced any future plans to expand but if the service is successful it undoubtedly will look towards Canada, the UK and Europe.

Google Hides Organic Search

Google has changed up the way it responds to certain Search Queries; hiding the organic search results for queries with single answers such as the current time or date. To be able to see all the results as a normal search page, you have to click “show all results”.

It seems like a sensible enough move on the face of it. These questions don’t need a plethora of search results to get the answer; the Google response is more than enough.  However, what some users, including one of our analysts Will Hamilton, have begun to notice is that some advertisers have started squeezing ads in on these search terms.

Naturally, some publishers are not impressed with this change. Many feel that Google is now forcing them to pay for ad space, rather than appearing organically. While this is very much a limited experiment, there is a lot of concern that a future, broader rollout on other searches (such as “who is the current Prime Minister” or “local football scores”) will be even more damaging – with some even claiming the move will kill content publishers. The current rollout on these limited searches does make some sense, as users are looking for a quick answer to that specific query, but it is interesting to consider how this might impact publishers in the future.

We sat down with Will to ask him what he thought about the recent changes, and how advertisers are making the most of this opportunity.

Do you think taking advantage of this advertising space is a smart move?

“For things like dating sites, it’s probably a waste of time. Yes, the ads are prominent, but they are so unrelated to the purpose of the search. If someone is just checking the time or date, it seems a bit pointless to feature these ads.”

Is it only for time and date searches?

“Some members of the team have mentioned seeing ones for converting temperatures from Celsius to Fahrenheit, but I haven’t managed to see that yet from a couple of different search queries. Taking it a step further and showing the temperature for your area might be more interesting – clothing brands would be able to show an ad for jumpers or coats if it’s cold.”

If the weather gets a similar treatment, you might see ads for umbrellas and sun cream running alongside the forecast, which again would hit consumers at the exact perfect time to convert. However, whether Google will continue to roll out this change is another question. As of yet, we don’t know if this is just a testing phase or the start of a wider transformation of the Google search platform. What we can say is that if there is more to come, advertisers will be given a unique opportunity to target consumers when the need to buy is arguably at its’ highest.

The New Players on the Shopping Block

June 2017 saw a record anti-trust fine of €2.42 billion from the European Commission against search giant Google for allegedly abusing its search engine dominance by giving illegal advantage to its own shopping comparison service. By September, Google made changes to its shopping service to give equal treatment to shopping comparison rivals as required by the EU.

However, it was only recently that any real changes to the shopping service became noticeable. Over the past few weeks, some shopping comparison services have been spotted appearing in top ‘Shopping Boxes’. For example, Lyst is appearing in the third box for ‘gucci clothes’, while GUCCI’s Google Shopping activity is nowhere to be seen. However, for their brand term, GUCCI ads take top spot.

What’s striking in each of these SERPs, is the obvious lack of shopping comparison services (CSS) like, Lyst. Google is likely removing duplicate products or offers from the same merchant.

We suspect the reasoning behind this is to ensure that healthy competition remains between merchants. If a merchant ran Google Shopping campaigns alongside numerous CSSs, they would completely dominate the space, forcing users to click through to their domain.

Equal Treatment

So, how exactly does this stimulate competition between CSSs?

CSSs are supposedly judged on the same criteria that Google Shopping merchants are. Since CSSs linking to identical domains are likely to have the same feed quality, and hence quality scores, it appears the higher bid wins the ad placement.

These smaller CSSs, like Lyst, who compete against big budget retailers on Google Shopping are unlikely to have the funds to outbid the competition.  This means the adjustments to Google Shopping are unlikely to have a significant effect in the long term.

In the short term however, we could find that as CSSs test the space and bid more aggressively to appear in the top ribbon, impacting CPCs.

With these high and potentially increasing costs, how are the smaller CSSs going to compete with existing budget-rich Google Shopping campaigns?

One avenue of success would be to focus on serving for longer tail search queries. By appearing, unnoticed, in the gaps of the merchant’s main coverage, smaller CSSs could thrive on low, cheap volume but higher converting traffic.

If we look closer at Lyst, we can see they dominate for the longer tail search term ‘shop gucci coats online uk’, with over half of the shopping ads on the SERP.

Provided that the CSSs can be clever with their ad placement and efficient with spend, they can make this new feature work for them.  This will allow them to reach users who have never used their comparison shopping service previously.

Merchant’s Choice

From the merchant’s perspective, why would they care which CSS a sale came from? A sale is a sale, right?

Well, merchants will tend to pay a fee for every sale or click driven to their website from a CSS. So, which CSS is most cost effective for the merchant?

This is largely dependent on the agreement that a merchant has setup with a CSS and the ROI of their Google Shopping campaigns. Even with a top performing Shopping campaign and significant investment, a merchant may find that a sale through a CSS is actually cheaper.

But, don’t go turning off your Google Shopping campaigns just yet. Ask yourself, is there any sustainable competition that these CSSs will be able to provide against rival merchants when the difference in budget is so stark? Probably not. They also can only appear on the SERP and not in the Google Shopping tab.

Dependence on these CSSs could well be a one-way street to losing out to your competition as they are outbid and out performed by more influential and experienced players.

Just as a note, it’s possible that a merchant may not be aware of an additional CSS bidding on its products. Therefore, it’s important to keep an eye on who is promoting your products, measure their performance and hold them to the same targets.

In fact, Google provides a handy feature in Google Merchant Center where you can untick a box to prevent a CSS from bidding on your products.

In Conclusion

Overall, it is doubtful that many merchants will see much change in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps, they may merely suffer a slight spend increase on Google Shopping campaigns.

Ensure that you are observing search queries carefully to see that we are not losing traffic from some of the best performing regions of our campaigns. If you do notice something such as long tail encroachment, then you must act quickly to stop any losses.

The key to overall success is monitoring, tracking, and measuring your results. This is not just from your Google shopping activity but also from that of any external CSS.

The Death of Google’s Sidebar Ads

Every now and then Google likes to drop a small, well-placed, bomb on the paid search industry.  In February 2013 the company behind the world’s most visited website launched “Enhanced Campaigns” changing the way advertisers were able to manage spend on different devices, and just last year Google introduced “Upgraded URLs” altering the way that 3rd party tracking needed to be applied to destination URLs in AdWords.

The latest significant change for advertisers appears to be the death of right sidebar ads on Google’s search engine results pages.  This change, as reported by Search Engine Land, will see text ads on the right hand side of the search results become defunct as Google looks to add an additional fourth ad to the top of the search results page for what they are calling “highly commercial queries.”

Cue the hysteria.  There are several immediate questions that spring to mind. Firstly, what does this mean with regards to CPC inflation?  With fewer results to bid on, the competition for the top places will inevitably increase and therefore bidding wars for top performing keywords are likely to become greatly intensified.  Secondly, is this the end of smaller advertisers being able to use AdWords as a channel to drive incremental revenue?  Currently advertisers with smaller budgets are able to occupy a place on right hand side of results where bigger spenders have the additional cash required to push for positions one to three.

The truth is this probably does mean CPC inflation, but what it should not mean is the end of AdWords being an important channel for smaller advertisers.  For years Google have been working to help advertisers serve even more relevant ads on the search engine results pages.  This has meant giving advertisers more control over when and where their ads are showing, allowing advertisers to overlay both first party audience data (through RLSAs) and third party data (through demographic targeting).  The fact that many advertisers still choose to ignore these features is not just to the detriment of the advertiser, but also to the user of the search engine itself.

This development should serve as the ultimate kick in the backside for paid search advertisers that are still seeing their campaigns as simply keywords and text ads.  I suspect the higher levels of keyword competition will lead to advertisers finally invoking many presently neglected AdWords features, ensuring that when paid search strategies are built greater emphasis goes into understanding how audience data can be applied to maximise return.

So yes, CPCs may go up, but if paid search advertisers are smart and start to utilise the full set of available AdWords features they will ensure that even more relevant audiences are met with their ads and therefore any inflation in CPC shouldn’t come at the detriment of return on investment.  For those of us however, that are currently utilising the full extent of AdWords features, well, it’s time to start the moaning, I suggest directing our complaints in the direction of Mountain View, Santa Clara, California.

Google Launches Black Friday & Cyber Monday Ad Extensions in the UK

Google have relaunched their Black Friday/ Cyber Monday ad extension to make more of the weekend!

The ad below is an example of this new Black Friday Paid Search ad, which was available in the US only last year. The ad allows you to add specific Black Friday and Cyber Monday attributes to your ad text. These attributes are displayed as an extra line on the ads.
Google-Black-Friday Ad Extensions UK

*Text in image has been made bold to emphasise change to ad.

The extension allows you to actively promote your offers for the Black Friday weekend and will appear in your AdWords account on 9th November. Once the extension has been set up, it will start appearing from 24th November. The extension will switch messaging automatically to Cyber Monday part way through the weekend and will stop showing on the evening of 30th November.

We recommend monitoring the percentage of time the extension shows with your ads, and testing whether ad copy also containing ‘Black Friday’ performs better or not.

We will be reporting on the results we saw when the weekend has finished, so stay tuned!

The Future is Dynamic

Google AdWords has now added Dynamic Text Ads and they’re getting great results.
This ad format allows you to retarget potential customers who have been to your website and looked at a specific product without purchasing. Of course you can already do this but what makes this unique is that it displays a small image and the details of the item they previously looked at with the use of a data feed.
These ads are incredibly smart, they display the product that was either viewed the most by the consumer or what they had in their online shopping basket.

You can access Dynamic Text Ads through Google’s Display Network (GDN) and they are purchased on a standard CPC basis. As not all sites on the GDN allow image ads, the Dynamic Text Ad has the ability to cover the gaps on these sites.
Even if you don’t have a live Display campaign, by running the Dynamic Text Ads alongside your standard PPC there is a strong likelihood ROI will increase because of the visual and relevant nature of the ad format.
We implemented this new Dynamic Text Ad for one of our clients and saw a very profitable conversion rate. To build the campaign, we used a double Ad Group strategy. One Ad Group specifically targeted consumers who left items in their shopping cart and the other for viewers of a product. The messaging could then be targeted and made more relevant to where the consumer is within their path to purchase.
Net Media Planet Analyst, Leonie Tamkin, explains, “Dynamic Text Ads create an opportunity to capture that user again. The product image helps to trigger the memory of what we know that person is already interested in.”
We are seeing an upsurge in the demand for dynamic and personalised digital advertising solutions. This new Dynamic Text Ad format is just one of the items we will see between now and the upcoming year that will help advertisers to create highly relevant ads with the use of product data feeds.

Google Tests Black Friday PPC Ad in the U.S.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday have come and gone in such a whirlwind many of us are still recouping from the shopping fury. But did any of you notice Google’s been testing a special Black Friday AdWords ad format in the US?
The ad below is an example of this new Black Friday Paid Search ad. The ad allows you to add specific Black Friday and Cyber Monday attributes to your ad text. These attributes are displayed as an extra line on the ads.

Google Black Friday PPC Addition


*Text in image has been made bold to emphasise change to ad.

The theory is that by calling attention to specific Black Friday or Cyber Monday special offers the CTR will increase. With a greater CTR we would hope to see an increase in the conversion rate as well.
Right now we have more questions than answers about this new product. Only time will tell how affective this extra line of text was.