The Top 10 Online Advertising Stories of 2019

The Top 10 Online Advertising Stories of 2019

The end is near. The end of 2019, that is. As we wrap up the final quarter of the year, many businesses and marketers are looking forward to what next year will bring in the advertising world.

  • Will there be another Google update that impacts your ads?
  • Will SEO finally be dead, as marketers have predicted since the term was coined?
  • Will the rise of AI lead to the return of the Cylons?

Only time will tell.

But, before we start talking about the newest trends in digital advertising for 2020, let’s take a look back at what changed in 2019, and how these changes will impact your ads in the coming year.

1. Google announces new Discovery ads format

At Google Marketing Live, the search giant announced several new features and products. For PPC marketers, the most exciting was the announcement of a new Discovery ads format.

Google Marketing Live image

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Discovery ads are native ads that appear across Google’s wide-reaching digital reach, including YouTube, Gmail, and the homepage of Google. The new format is designed to be more immersive, interactive, and intent-based.

Why it matters to advertisers: Google’s Discover ads reach more than 800 million users annually. This change could make these ads far more effective at driving conversions than the previous format, which is good news for advertisers.

2. Google fined $57 Million USD for GDPR Violations

In January, France’s CNIL levied a 57 million dollar fine against Google for “lack of transparency, inadequate information and lack of valid consent regarding ads personalization,” and warned that further penalties could be coming unless Google changes its practices.

GDPR, which went into effect in May of 2018, set far stricter standards for consent and transparency for the data collected in European countries. Google rewrote its privacy policies, but it is clear that those changes were not enough for France’s government. 

Why it matters to advertisers: This fine should serve as a wake-up call for businesses that serve European clients. GDPR should not be taken lightly, even by smaller US-based companies who market to European audiences.

3. Instagram announces Checkout

Instagram has been growing fast, with more than a billion users at last count. Over the years, they have launched a variety of business tools including shoppable Instagram stories and posts.

On March 19, Instagram announced Checkout, a feature designed to allow users to make purchases directly from the platform.

Users simply tap on an item, select the version they want, and tap to checkout, then head right back to scrolling their Instagram feed.

Instagram Checkout

How are shoppable posts different from Instagram Checkout? With shoppable posts, users still left the platform to checkout. Instagram Checkout actually processes the payments (for a fee), gives users shipping information, and allows shoppers to track their purchases.

The feature is currently available in a limited rollout.

Why this matters to advertisers: This change makes it far easier for brands to sell products directly from the social media platform and may increase sales from the platform. It also feels like a move towards a more Amazon-like experience on Instagram.

However, it is just one new feature in a line of offerings directed at businesses on Instagram. In October, Instagram also released a feature that allows users to see what products look like on them using augmented reality. 

4. Facebook data breach

As Instagram grows increasingly popular with brands and users alike, Facebook continues to see major problems, including the Cambridge Analytica breach, security issues, and even suggestions that false Facebook ads were used to sway recent elections.

In April, Facebook was in the news again with another data breach, caused by the Groups API, which allowed apps that were given permission to access group data to retain that information longer than intended.

Facebook noted:

“We know at least 11 partners accessed group members’ information in the last 60 days. Although we’ve seen no evidence of abuse, we will ask them to delete any member data they may have retained and we will conduct audits to confirm that it has been deleted.”

Why it matters to advertisers: Advertisers should be paying attention to all data breaches, but the sheer number and size of Facebook’s security issues are becoming increasingly unsettling.

This is creating a great deal of distrust among users, causing many to delete their Facebook accounts and their data. Relying entirely on Facebook ads is a risky strategy.

5. Facebook expands their ad library to all industries

In March, Facebook announced they were expanding their ad library, which is designed to make it easier for Facebook users to learn more about the companies who run ads on the platform.

Previously, the ad library only covered ads related to politics and social issues. Now, users can access a vast amount of data about any Facebook advertiser.

The ad library also offers far more detailed information, such as how much each company spent, what ads they ran, when the page was created, as well as any name changes for the page.

Facebook ad library Trump example

Facebook states this new library is an effort to increase transparency. It definitely gives users access to far more data about the brands advertising to them.

Why this matters to advertisers: Honest advertisers shouldn’t see much impact. However, the increased transparency does make it easier for users to see what advertisers are up to— if they care to look. It may also offer some competitor insight for marketers.

6. Google’s BERT update

In October, Google announced the BERT update, which it called the most important update in the last five years. That is enough to make anyone involved in online advertising pay attention. How did BERT impact online marketing?

BERT meme

Here’s what Google says:

“These improvements are oriented around improving language understanding, particularly for more natural language/conversational queries, as BERT is able to help Search better understand the nuance and context of words in Searches and better match those queries with helpful results.”

The BERT algorithm stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers and is a deep learning algorithm designed to help Google better understand what words mean in context.

Why it matters to advertisers: According to Google’s search liaison Danny Sullivan, marketers and site owners do not need to do anything to optimize for BERT. The goal of the update is to provide better search results by allowing Google to understand the difference between (for example) a bass fish and a bass guitar based on context.

Advertisers should pay attention to how this change impacts key terms and, possibly more important, the use of negative key terms in ad campaigns.  

7. LinkedIn offers interest-based targeting

In March, professional social media giant LinkedIn rolled out a massive change to their ad targeting program. Now, marketers can use interests to target LinkedIn users, similar to Facebook.

Targeting options now include:

LinkedIn interest targeting options

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Why it matters to advertisers: As trust in Facebook declines, a better way to advertise on LinkedIn could serve as a huge potential, especially for B2B brands who are looking to target decision makers.

8. Google updates ad policy to restrict debt services ads

In early November, Google announced updates to the policies that outline what finance companies can and can’t do on Google Ads. For starters, Google will no longer deliver ads for credit repair services, like these:  

Google ads restricted debt update

In addition, advertisers who wish to create ads to promote their debt services will need to work with Google to become certified. More importantly, only brands in specific countries will be able to seek certification. Certification may also require status as a non-profit budget and credit counseling agency, as outlined 11 U.S. Code § 111.

You can apply for approval here.

Why it matters to advertisers: This story doesn’t affect everyone, but it matters a lot to affected advertisers: If you offer services in the financial field, these changes could eliminate your ability to run ads on Google.

9. Google’s core update

In September, Google announced a new core update to its algorithm, aimed at increasing the ranking of sites that offer original, substantial and uniquely insightful content. 

It is also worth noting this was the second large core update from Google in 2019, with the first occurring in March. That update was aimed at health websites and increasing the value of highly trusted sites.

image of laptop w/Google update screen

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Why it matters to advertisers: 2019 was the first year that Google announced core updates prior to them occurring and gave them names, rather than letting the search community name them. (Which, to be fair, gave us gems like Fred, Penguin, and Possum.)

This update solidifies what we already knew—content is really, really important to Google. However, it also may signify a higher level of transparency from Google when it comes to updates. Although their names for updates are a bit, shall we say, uninspired?

While organic traffic doesn’t directly impact how paid ads perform, PPC and SEO are complementary approaches. Understanding what impacts SEO can help you build better ads.

10. Google unable to index new content—again

In August of 2019, Google confirmed they were, once again, unable to index new content on some websites. As a result, several sites experience massive drops in traffic through no fault of their own.

tweet about Google's indexing issue

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It seemed that the issue was centered around news sites, with several Twitter users reporting that sites like the Washington Post and the New York Times were not showing up in searches, even for searches of the newspaper names.

This was the second time this year that Google reported issues with indexing. The first issue occurred in April and lasted a total of six days.

Why it matters to advertisers: Although these issues have been resolved, it is worth paying attention to similar problems as they arise, particularly if they impact PPC conversion rates. A massive drop in traffic may be a result of another Google de-indexing issue, not due to a core update, getting blacklisted, or poor quality ads.

Coming soon: Facebook to limit the number of ads that pages can run

In November, Facebook announced it will begin to limit the number of ads that Facebook pages can run at the same time.

It claims this will only impact a small number of advertisers and is designed to prevent pages from wasting ad spend. The update will be rolled out sometime in 2020, and Facebook plans to release more details in the coming months.

Why it matters to advertisers: With so few details, it is difficult to tell how many advertisers will be impacted by this update. Brands or marketers who spend a great deal of money advertising on Facebook should keep an eye out for more information as it becomes available. 

What can we expect in online advertising in 2020?

Really, who knows? But interactive content and video continue to increase in importance, as does mobile usages. However, the rise of AI, automation, and machine learning should be top of mind for all online advertisers and brands!