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Is Google killing third-party platforms?

Published: April 10, 2014

Author: Susan Waldes

After Google announced yesterday that they will no longer pass paid query data outside of the UI, Marin very quickly responded to assure advertisers that their platform and others that rely on unique keyword IDs for bidding algorithms would not be affected by the change. This covers the majority of bid platforms that I am aware of, though some third-party solutions have less “core” products that will be impacted; this move isn’t a huge hit for any of the major third-party platforms.
The breakneck speed and slightly defensive tone of Marin’s statement is not surprising; they are in an insecure spot. We’ll examine how some of Google’s recent releases have put third parties in a precarious position, where they still hold an advantage, and what the future might bring.

Google advancements: a rising threat?

About a year ago, Enhanced Campaigns inherently decreased the utility of bidding platforms. The best practice pre-enhanced was to create campaigns for device and geographic performance tiers. For mid to large advertisers, couple this with other campaign-level concepts, and this could easily spin into hundreds of campaigns. Managing budgets and bidding on these efficiently and effectively mandated the use of a platform.
Though there are tools and some automation opportunities at managing bid modifiers in most 3rd-party platforms, the utility is fuzzier, the algorithms is less mature, and the finer-grained levers don’t exist. Essentially, you have fewer CPC bids to manage overall in an Enhanced Campaigns world, and you will need to execute some portion of your bidding and bid analysis within the engine UIs now, regardless.
Let’s consider some other AdWords features that have been released since then: attribution reporting, ability to import offline or secondary conversion points, control of conversion latency window, ROAS bidding, flexible bid strategies, feed-based ad capabilities and some (still in their infancy) tools to report on multiple conversion types. Additionally, there are a host of new “rules” for scheduling ads, campaigns, and extensions, and the existing bidding and automated rules have a host of new sophisticated options.
What’s the commonality of all these new features? They all used to be things that could only be done in third-party platforms. Along with query reporting that is now exclusive to the UI, other metrics such as auction insights, HHI reporting, impression assisted conversions, demographic reporting, estimated total conversions, and manual call tracking (to name a few) have never been part of what 3rd-party platforms could address – any platform that could “grab” any of these metrics was simply pulling the data into another “place” without any additional reporting segments or capabilities added. (Speaking of segments, have you noticed all the ones that have been added to AdWords over the past year? If not, go take a peek.)
What is it that third-party platforms haven’t ever been useful for? That’s GDN or other targeting methodologies that are not search keyword-based: YouTube, Dynamic Search Ads, and AdMob/in-app ads, for example. Best practice on these has always been to use CPA-based bidding within AdWords, as that is the only algo that has impression-level control. GDN reporting in third parties is acceptable, but bidding and proper optimization has always been best-executed within AdWords. Non-keyword targeting is becoming more and more important to an effective “SEM” program with advertiser budgets increasingly applied to campaigns where third-party tools have little to no added value.

So, what is it that third parties can still do that AdWords can’t?

There’s plenty, but the list is dwindling:
– Rich reporting of many different conversion metrics, all in their own columns, with the ability to automate data consumption via FTP. I suspect the columns are forthcoming to Google, and soon. My take is that the change to “click conversions” and “conversions” was a shift to the architecture to facilitate this.
– Integration of other engine data, namely Bing Ads. This one is a little harder to imagine becoming integral to AdWords. That said, Google Analytics can now consume spend from other engines at a granular level and DoubleClick has the capabilities to track a myriad of data when pixels or redirects are used. So, though from a “politics” and implementation standpoint, it’s hard to imagine, the technology underpinnings are there to both report and action on other engines. It’s possible Yahoo/Bing friction could be the impetus for movement in this direction as well.

What now?

So, is Google trying to kill third-party platforms? I’m not sure if it’s premeditated or simply happenstance; inarguable is that the cost/benefit of the third parties is already radically diminished and trending to be more so. Marin (and the other third parties) should be considering serious changes to the pricing or investing in developing radically innovative new feature sets.  For Marin specifically, both of those things are difficult to push through quickly for a publically traded company. I’m not sure how it will ultimately shake down, but let’s just say I am not buying Marin happenstance stock any time soon

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