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Many brands depend on Google media buying platforms for the success of their campaigns and many have relied for years on Google’s free solution, Google Ads. Formerly known as Google Adwords, Google Ads is the place to go for buying paid search advertising on the Google search engine. Google Ads campaigns can be managed directly within the Ads interface with many key bidding and targeting features built into the core functionality, such as automated bid strategies, audience targeting, remarketing, bid modifiers, and geo-targeting/exclusion. It also enables advertising on Google Display Network (GDN) and Google Shopping ads. Google Ads makes a variety of ad formats and advertising media types directly accessible by advertisers ranging from small, family-owned businesses to large agencies and Fortune 500 enterprises.

Many advertisers, though, need to harness more power, features and automation. Enter Google Search Ads 360 (SA360), Google’s enterprise-class search suite, which offers the user an advanced search toolset and new capabilities that aren’t available with Google Ads. These users tend to be larger organizations and agencies who have more complex marketing needs (e.g., more campaigns, more products, more users), significant search ad budgets and more sophisticated users. With the benefits of SA360 also come some costs, including recurring software license fees, implementation time and costs and additional training.

Is it worth it? For many mid-to-large company, enterprise and agency users, it certainly warrants an exploration. “Power users” of Google Ads should also be keenly interested in SA360. Many will find that they may be spending more and getting less using the “free” tool when it comes to actual campaign efforts and results.

What differentiates Google SA360

Whereas Google Ads is a platform through which you can directly purchase ad inventory, Search Ads 360 is one of the enterprise ad tech tools that comprise the Google Marketing Platform (GMP). Search Ads 360 was formerly DoubleClick for Search before the GMP rebranding took place.

SA360 has many advanced feature sets that are unavailable in Google Ads. Some of the most prominent include:

Multi-engine platform: Technically, Search Ads 360 is a search management and optimization platform. In SA360, advertisers can sync their search engine marketing accounts from Google Ads, Bing Ads, Yahoo! Japan, Yahoo! Gemini, and Baidu. Once synced and properly configured, marketers can build, launch, and optimize paid search marketing across search engines in a unified platform. There is a shared use of Google Click ID (gclid) parameter across both Google and Bing search campaigns. With the Google Analytics 360 integration, you get more comprehensive search performance and (cost) data to be directly sent to GA for both Google and Bing. SA360 also features limited management and reporting features for paid social on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Multi-user and multi-campaign control: Unlike Google Ads, SA360 can provide integrated views across more than a single user and can be used to coordinate and learn from multiple campaigns simultaneously. This can be very beneficial to larger marketing organizations where different teams are coordinating and the campaign portfolio is complex.

Auction Time Bidding (ATB) and bidding automation: One of the most significant departures is how precisely ad bidding is managed and automated in SA360. ATB has been extended to provide more granular control and targeting. In ATB, marketers can analyze performance of the campaigns in the bidding portfolio approximately every six hours to set bid adjustments automatically based on the bidding strategy set in place. The system enables users to set ROI, CPA or ERS goals to align with the advertiser’s business strategy. The auction time bidding strategy analyzes different contextual signals available in Google Ads and shared with SA360, including:

  • Geographic Targets
  • Keyword bid
  • Operating System
  • Keyword semantics
  • Actual Search Query
  • Demographics 
  • Browser
  • Remarketing List
  • Applications
  • Language, ad creative
  • Audience Lists
  • Price competitiveness 
  • Account Structure

It is important to make a distinction between Google Ads and Search Ads 360 capabilities and how SA360 sets bids by leveraging a multitude of signals coming in from Google Ads. Once SA360 is connected to Google Ads and you’re running auction-time bidding you will see SA360 begin to take over setting bid adjustments within Google Ads. 

As you link up the accounts and set up your ATB strategy, Search Ads 360 is set to take on the proprietary signals to adjust bids and targets more effectively every 6 hours throughout the day to meet your ROAS targets. 

An important SA360 differentiator from Google Ads is the default conversion goal, or DCG. The DCG is a metric that enables the search platform to identify when a targeted prospect has successfully or unsuccessfully been marketed to and to what level of conversion, allowing the system to reallocate spend and targeting to the right customers or networks. Enabling a DCG for cross-learning opportunities can maximize ATB performance. For example, you can specify a single default conversion goal that can be set across all engine accounts to optimize towards. You can set it to share the default ROAS value or ERS (Effective Revenue Share) for the whole account or between a certain subset of campaigns.

To maximize performance, it is best to work with a single definition of DCG in an account to allow for multiple learning benefits across campaigns. Because of this, it is strongly encouraged to consolidate to a single definition of a conversion when possible. Without DCG, marketers face several issues. With less cross-learning opportunity between campaigns and engines, the advertiser’s campaigns will experience suboptimal performance versus those that use DCG. Some business requirements may demand using multiple definitions of conversions, but these campaigns will have difficulties comparing against one another on an apples-to-apples basis.

Advanced Data Driven Attribution: SA360 offers a much more robust set of attribution models and techniques that go beyond what happens in Google Ads. For example, there’s a shared floodlight configuration with Campaign Manager and Display & Video 360 for deduplicated conversion reporting across paid media. Attribution can be tracked across the different engines that SA360 supports. Because auction-time bidding is now available in SA360, the bid strategy’s Floodlight conversions are shared with Google Ads (with your consent) to enable both bidding systems to use the same conversion data. The shared Floodlight conversions are referred to as a conversion action set in Google Ads.

More sophisticated workflows and reporting: SA360 offers a much more robust set of reporting tools, enabling marketers to better understand campaign performance, make better spending decisions in the future, and get cross-campaign/cross-engine views. SA360 also has many more automation features, allowing users to set up more sophisticated workflows, enabling them to do more without requiring manual intervention.

What is the business case for investing in these platforms?

If you run sophisticated, multi-channel marketing programs in-house and leverage a rich and integrated data infrastructure to inform and optimize your marketing efforts, you will likely benefit from Google SA360 and the GMP ad tech stack. According to Google research, companies that achieve effective data-driven marketing see average cost savings of 16% while increasing revenue by 13%. For larger advertising organizations, it may be more costly to not have SA360 than to have it, given the improvement in campaign performance and the reduction of work through automation and better coordination.

Small and medium advertisers with limited budgets or significant budgets concentrated within one or two channels and tactics may be better served by the research, planning, and optimization tools available directly within Google Ads. You can purchase your paid search advertising, Google Display Network, and Shopping ads directly within Google Ads. Use the desktop editor to load, edit, QA, and then launch your campaigns offline. The bid strategies and comprehensive targeting options available directly in Google Ads give most basic users plenty of levers to get the most out of ad budgets without incurring additional costs.

For most marketers, a careful review of SA360 is worthwhile to see if its benefits will outweigh its additional costs. Some marketers might still be using Google Ads simply out of old habit or lack of knowledge of the SA360 value proposition.

In most cases, a more significant business case will have to be made before implementing SA360 due to its cost, implementation timeline and training requirements, so organizations must do a little work in evaluating the tool as well as taking a look at their own needs and operations. For larger organizations and power users deeply invested in Google ad marketing, SA360’s benefits should easily justify the move up.

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