What Do Google’s Enhanced Campaigns Mean for SMBs?

google-map-enterprise-coordinateTo wildly mixed reactions, Google last week announced a major redesign to its pervasive AdWords SEM platform. Known as enhanced campaigns, the redesign will force advertisers to run a single — though conditionally governed — campaign across desktops, mobile devices, and tablets.

SEM advertisers could previously run separate or solo campaigns on different devices. The name of the game was crafting bids and ad groups based on device-specific variances in anticipated search behavior (taking into consideration mobile users’ local intent, for example).

The new system essentially forces them into converged campaigns across all devices. This is built around preset rules for when, where, and to whom ads appear, meant to have a “one-stop shop” appeal that still preserves some level of customization.

Google gave an example:

“A breakfast cafe wants to reach people nearby searching for ‘coffee’ or ‘breakfast’ on a smartphone. Using bid adjustments, with three simple entries, they can bid 25% higher for people searching a half-mile away, 20% lower for searches after 11am, and 50% higher for searches on smartphones. These bid adjustments can apply to all ads and all keywords in one single campaign.”

This also includes items like specific creative or click-to-call buttons to complement mobile’s high-intent, proximity-oriented searches. And a new reporting construct will align with these options to measure desired actions like calls, app downloads, et cetera.

Meanwhile, tablet-specific campaigns will disappear with the notion that user behavior is close enough to that in desktop ones to combine SEM strategies accordingly. Too often we hear tablets lumped in as “mobile” which is a mistake (though it’s also not the same as desktop).

So this all sounds great right? It accommodates nuance around location-based mobile advertising, while simplifying the process for some constituents like time-starved and technically inept SMBs. But there are others that don’t like it so much and for good reason.

Among the grievances has been a resounding cry from brands and advanced AdWords advertisers that this “dumbs down” their options for device-specific campaigns. More important, there’s backlash against anticipated cost-per-click (CPC) pricing increases.

One key point is that these converged search campaigns will result in higher desktop CPCs. That’s obviously good for Google, which is facing (as is Facebook) the situation that users’ flocking to mobile has caused lower mobile ad rates to drag down its overall CPC average.

But it’s clearly not so good for advertisers — especially early adopters who now have to wave goodbye to the undervalued mobile search ad inventory they previously enjoyed. But could the forced platform convergence end up bettering SMBs and late adopters?

There’s one argument that it will make them more astute at running mobile search campaigns, including when it comes to keywords, ad copy, calls to action, and analytics. In other words, because of SMB advertisers’ dormancy in jumping into mobile, should Google force their hand?

Marchex Institute’s John Busby put it best:

“Marketers will be required to think more deeply about mobile use cases, cross-channel measurement and attribution. Google’s research has shown that the most popular outcome of a local search is a phone call. Embracing call analytics solutions to effectively track the ROI of offline response to digital actions will be essential to optimizing campaigns. Similarly, I expect there to be increased focus on understanding in-store visits from mobile devices.”

Just like when it changed mobile-search ranking factors to bury non-optimized sites, Google is using the stick instead of the carrot. The tough love is timed, given a cloud-based, cross-platform world where the path to purchasing weaves between different screens.

SMBs will indeed end up better (as will Google) for being forced into this world. It was going to take someone other than themselves to unstrap the training wheels so they would learn how to work the medium that will constitute a key part of the next decade’s marketing mix.

Mike Boland is senior analyst at BIA/Kelsey, where he heads up the firm’s mobile local coverage. Previously, he was a tech journalist for Forbes, Red Herring, Business 2.0, and other outlets.