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Three Major Themes From the 2019 Google Marketing Live Keynote

At Google Marketing Live (GML) last week, the search engine giant made several big product announcements for advertisers during the keynote address. While many have written up the nitty gritty of each new announcement, here we’re going to focus on three major themes and what they might mean for marketing programs moving forward.

Google is Trying Its Hardest to Eliminate Excuses for Marketers

In an industry where there is constant change, new products & features to test, and an ever-growing list of things to optimize, it is relatively easy to make excuses for tasks marketers don’t get to. “Our creative team doesn’t have the bandwidth”, “Smart Bidding tools don’t give us enough control”, “we don’t have enough time”, and similar sentiments can be common, but Google is doing its best to take phrases like these out of advertisers’ vocabularies.

There are two prime examples from GML that illustrate this idea very well. The first is the introduction of Bumper Machine, an ad generation tool for YouTube that will pare down existing longer-form ads from advertisers with machine learning into editable six second clips. Now advertisers can take that ad creation project off their creative team’s plate and get right to implementation and testing sans excuses.

The second example is the host of Smart Bidding updates that aim to address potential control issues that have given advertisers pause when considering adoption. These include a new bidding strategy to maximize conversion value as well as new ways to guide the Smart Bidding models like conversion value rules and seasonality adjustments. These should encourage wider testing among those with reservations.

Personally, I am glad Google is recognizing that exciting things like new ad formats also come with higher barriers to entry for some. If Google continues to invest more heavily in ideas that will make their platform and products more accessible to advertisers that don’t have agencies or large marketing teams it will increase adoption and make the lives of marketers a little easier.

Google is Doubling Down on Visual Ads

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or forgot to download our Digital Marketing Report), you’ve likely noticed that text ads have taken a backseat to image-based Google Shopping ads for retail advertisers over the past few years. The success of these more visually-appealing ad units has prompted Google to invest in similar formats that extend beyond retail.

The biggest news on this front is the launch of a new mobile ad type this year called Gallery Ads (beta-tested under the name Story Ads) which is essentially what you’d get if you crossed an expanded text ad (ETA) with a Showcase ad – and it honestly sounds pretty great. They’ll feature a collection of swipe-able images, three headlines, and a description, and will display in an impossible-to-miss fashion at the top of the SERP. It seems like they’ll likely function as a text counterpart to Showcase ads since they won’t be powered by a product feed.

Speaking of Showcase ads, Google is expanding placements for them with inventory in YouTube feeds, the Discover tab of the Google app, and Google Images. Given that these venues suggest users have less immediate purchase intent than they do when they conduct a search on google.com, the additional reach should prove useful in capturing customers higher in the purchase funnel.

Announcements like this should signal to advertisers that they should be prepared to increase investment in visual ad units because they aren’t going away anytime soon. They’re going to expand in search beyond standard lower-funnel placements to engage shoppers at every stage of the journey because that’s ultimately what Google (and most advertisers) want – a fully measurable start to finish customer journey.

It’s also exciting that non-retail advertisers like non-profits and financial businesses will now have access to a visual ad unit in the search space since they are unable to use Shopping ads. Given what we know about engagement rates and general user experience with Product Listing Ads (PLA) and Showcase, those non-retail advertisers will hopefully see a good boost to customer interactions.

Google Is Not Giving Up on Direct Competition with Amazon

Given Google’s efforts to incorporate Amazon-like functionality into search for several years now, it’s not surprising that a significant portion of the keynote was dedicated to ways Google is trying to incorporate Express-powered listings into Search. Among the developments, Express will now be referred to as part of Shopping for consumers, while the program through which retailers sell directly through Google properties will be referred to as Shopping Actions. We’ll still reference Express here for clarity.

Express is Google’s way to create parity with Amazon by allowing users to complete a purchase without ever going to another site. We saw the first attempt to incorporate this kind of functionality into Shopping with the debut of Purchases on Google (aka The Buy Button) a few years ago, but it struggled to catch on.

After some tinkering and updating, the idea was reintroduced as the Shopping Actions program and kept its ties to PLAs on the SERP, though with a commission-based payment structure as opposed to pay-per-click (PPC). Now Google is looking to expand those ties by marrying Shopping with the Express program in a more widespread manner by expanding the potential placements and redesigning the experience of the Google Shopping destination.

While the idea makes sense, Google may be putting the cart before the horse from an advertising perspective. Shopping Actions, which is at the core of this expanded Express incorporation into Shopping, has not resolved the issues with opaque performance reporting or third-party tracking, among other things that have prevented advertisers from fully buying into the platform.

Advertising issues aside, Google is making solid strides in removing friction from the purchase experience for customers with Shopping Actions, but they still must fight against the point of view that their primary value is as a means to navigate to other websites instead of being a point of purchase. Up to this point, Google has demonstrated that it isn’t willing to cannibalize its traditional source of Shopping revenue too much given all the growth we’ve seen from PPC Shopping campaigns over the last year. It will be interesting to see when or if that approach begins to change with these announcements. There will likely be some extensive testing of the waters to balance the two POVs and give users and advertisers the best possible experience, which is the ultimate goal.


The Google Marketing Live Keynote introduced some interesting announcements that will undoubtedly have some measurable impact on a lot of marketing programs. The magnitude of the impact is still up in the air and Google will need to follow through on the more ambitious ideas, such as the machine-learning oriented announcements, for the products to maximize potential. As always, we’ll provide regular updates as we learn more about these changes.