Pay per click is one of the most powerful and popular advertising methods currently available in digital marketing. In 2016 alone, $79.38 billion of Google’s revenue came from its pay per click advertising service Google Adwords.
With billions of dollars being spent on PPC advertising every year, it’s interesting to take a look at how we got here in the first place. Although PPC has been around for several decades, it’s had plenty of major changes and milestones over the years. These changes have moulded paid search into what it is today and have helped pay per click marketing become the most popular digital advertising method in existence.
To take you on a tour of the history of PPC, we’ve put together an informative timeline that you’re guaranteed to enjoy. Covering every major milestone and change over the past 22 years, before you can understand the present model, you need to understand the past.
So when was PPC invented, and what spawned this incredible marketing sensation? To start our journey, we need to travel all the way back to 1996 when Babylon Zoo were king of the charts and dungarees were in.
The History Of PPC Marketing
- 12th April – Yahoo! Launches its IPO valuing the company at $334 million
- 8th July – Planet Oasis launches the first PPC model
- 29th August – The first version of Google is released as a research project
- 14th September – Open Text launches their own PPC model “Preferred Listings” leaving customers angry
The first documented pay per click advertising model was released by a company called Planet Oasis way back in 1996. This was several years before Google had even become a limited company. At the time, Google was still an early research idea by Larry and Sergey, who were PhD students working on their “BackRub” algorithm. Back then, Yahoo and Lycos were the go-to search engines and the thought of a new search engine overtaking both of them in market share was laughable.
The homepage of Planet Oasis resembled a virtual city with over 200 different companies and websites listed for users to click on. Each building in the virtual city had a web logo which linked the user directly to the company’s page. The idea was that over time the city would grow and more companies would get listed on the site. This would mean more money for Planet Oasis and more visits for their advertisers.
When the service launched, 15 companies including Time Warner, Warner Bros, The New York Times and Yahoo all paid $10,000 each to be featured on the homepage. Other companies paid $3,000 each to be featured in smaller category areas such as magazines, games and entertainment. Planet Oasis and their website might be long gone, but you can still experience their iconic homepage online here.
Developed by Ark Interface II, the company behind Planet Oasis, this was just the beginning for their online advertising model. Ark hoped to charge sponsors ½ for each user who clicked on the ads. According to some reports at the time, early participants were less than enthusiastic about the pay-per-visit model and instead would rather pay a fixed fee.
Mr. Christensen from Sierra at the time said: “I’m not sure we would be even signing up under that business model. I would probably try to negotiate a flat fee with them.”
Another director of marketing from Specialized Bicycle Components at the time also said: “Clicks to my site and spending time there two different things. If I’m paying for clicks, I’m not really into that.
How wrong they both were.
Around the same time, another company called Open Text introduced a new PPC model which allowed advertisers to bid on certain keywords. Unlike the fantastic success they had originally hoped for, their customers actually turned on them saying it ruined their website and the whole principle. Customers argued that users expected the best results at the top, not just any sponsored result. The CEO of Lycos even commented “To me, this damages the integrity of the search service. This is like librarians putting books on the end of a bookshelf if you pay her some extra money”.
As you can see, in the early days, many people didn’t like pay per click at all. Most businesses wanted to stick to tradition fixed fees so they knew how much they were spending, while some said it ruined the whole principle of search engines.
- Over 400 brands use Planet Oasis paying $0.005 – $0.25 per click
- Yahoo is the largest online advertiser with $53.2 million in advertising revenue
- 15th September – Google.com is registered as a domain name
Less than a year after the Planet Oasis advertising model was launched, the website had over 400 companies signed up to their service. Initially, many businesses were skeptical of the pay per click model, but slowly they started to see the benefits and advantages. Most of the companies didn’t really have a choice as their competitors were already taking advantage of the service, and they didn’t want to be left behind. Advertisers paid on average $0.005 to $0.25 per click, plus a placement fee to appear on the website.
Slowly and surely many businesses were starting to accept the pay per click model and many other companies started to copy the same business model.
- Goto.com launch a PPC bidding system that allows advertisers to bid on keywords
- 15th June – GoTo.com announced a backfill deal with Inktomi
- 4th September – Google officially becomes an incorporated company
- 31st December – Google has over 60 million web pages indexed
Following the success of Planet Oasis and their PPC advertising model, another company Goto.com also launched their PPC model. At the time, Goto.com was a new startup founded by Idealab founder and serial entrepreneur Bill Gross. Although it hadn’t been around for very long, Goto.com managed to catch the attention of many businesses.
Unlike the Planet Oasis advertising model, this model was different as it allowed advertisers to bid against each other to decide who’s ads got featured on the website. Not only did this help Goto.com make more money on competitive keywords, but advertisers also paid less for less competitive keywords. For many companies, this was seen as a huge advantage.
The Goto.com site itself was an online search engine crossed with a directory of categories and industries. When users clicked a specific category or searched for something, relevant adverts were displayed to them and advertisers were charged per click. Instead of a fixed fee, this allowed advertisers to bid against each other in order to claim the number 1 spot. Since there could only be one top spot per category or search, Goto.com had the ingenious idea of letting the market decide how much they wanted to pay. This allowed larger businesses to price out smaller competitors and opened a whole new world of competitive PPC strategies.
By mid-1998, advertisers were paying up to $1 a click in order to be featured on the top slot. Looking back, $1 a click is incredibly low compared to some of the prices today. However, unlike today, the bidding wasn’t in real-time and took several hours to be updated.
By the end of 1998, Google had officially become an incorporated company and was open to the public. Although the site was still listed as being in beta, by the end of the year, Google had indexed over 60 million web pages. Unknown to many search engines and businesses at the time, Google was slowly becoming the next big thing.
- Goto.com allows advertisers to set real-time pay per click bids on certain keywords
- 18th June – Goto.com goes public with its IPO
- Google receives funding from various investors and venture capitalists raising $25 million
After their successful PPC launch, Goto.com decided to take it to the next level and introduced real-time PPC bidding on certain keywords. Dubbed their “direct traffic centre” this new feature allowed advertisers to adjust their bids in real-time to help them fight for that number one spot.
GoTo’s business model was based on the simple idea that it’s paid adverts would be more relevant to users than search engine results at the time. The search engine algorithms back then weren’t as good as today’s and struggled to distinguish spam from genuine results. To solve this issue, GoTo.com had the idea that websites who wanted to pay to advertise their site were probably higher quality and respectable compared to those that didn’t. This meant the top paid ads would be the most relevant and spam results would get pushed down the results page.
Although a similar service had been offered by Open Text in 1996, many customers at the time didn’t want the commercialization of search engines. Over time, as search engines attempted to incorporate PPC into their websites, users started to realise it wasn’t that bad and was actually beneficial to them. Not only did it give them more relevant search results, but they didn’t have to pay anything extra to receive them.
This completely shifted many users stance on PPC and its effectiveness. Instead of just hating on it, many users and businesses started to see the possibilities and benefits of using it. With many users and businesses starting to change their mind, this helped fuel the popularity of paid search.
At the same time, Goto.com was launching its PPC model, Google was starting to grow fast in size and had the financial backing they needed. They might have had big offices, lots of employees, and millions in funding, but Google didn’t have a business model yet. With servers and employees costing them hundreds of thousands a month, Google needed a way to make money, and fast.
- 3rd January – Yahoo becomes the most valuable company in the world thanks to the dot com bubble
- 23rd October – Google AdWords is launched
- The dot com bubble causes many online internet companies to go bankrupt, damaging the online advertising market
Near the end of the year 2000, Google was receiving over 18 million searches per day. With so many searches, Google decided it was time to monetize its search engine with unobtrusive text adverts on the side of their search results. With so many other search engines at the time running their own PPC ads, Google had lots of other companies to compete against. Their new advertising system was called “AdWords” and launched to the delight of advertisers. Within the first few months, Google AdWords had over 350 advertisers sign up to use their PPC service. Little did they know how successful it would be.
Around the same time, the world was hit by a substantial financial crisis dubbed the dot-com bubble. After experiencing rapid growth in sales, stock value and market share, many dot com companies disappeared overnight. This put the future and existence of many dot com companies including Google and Yahoo into question. Although many big internet companies didn’t go bankrupt in the end, it still hurt the online advertising industry hard. With no companies to buy adverts online, it was a slow period for the pay per click industry.
- October 8 – GoTo.com, Inc. renames itself to Overture Services, Inc.
- Overture partners with Yahoo!, MSN and other search engines to offer ads
- Overture earns $288 million in PPC advertising
- Google earns $85 million from PPC advertising
Shortly after Google had launched their new AdWords service, one of their competitors GoTo.com decided up drastically up their game.
After making a name for themselves in the late ’90s, GoTo decided it was time for a change and renamed themselves to Overture Services Inc. Overtures chief operating officer Jaynie Studenmund at the time said “Overture is an introduction, and we feel that’s what we do as a company. We also felt it was a sophisticated enough name, in case our products expand.”
In order to expand their business and online advertising model, Overture teamed up with several other search engines such as Yahoo and MSN. This partnership allowed Overture to monetize other search engines results without them having to create their own advertising system. These deals with search engines greatly benefited both parties and helped Yahoo boost their revenue significantly. For Google, this was a major drawback. To put things into perspective, by the end of 2001 Google had earned $85 million from PPC advertising while Overture (GoTo.com) had earned $288 million. GoTo’s business model of PPC and white labelling it to other search engines was starting to become a huge success.
- Feb – Earthlink drops Overture, shares drop 41%
- April – Overture sues Google over search patent
- May – Overture loses AOL contract to Google
- Shopping.com allows e-commerce sites to bid per click
Shortly after Overture’s success in 2001, things began to turn a bit sour for them. 2002 was a bad year for Overture as they lost two major contracts and saw their stock price plummet in value. In February it was announced that Overture had lost its contract with internet service provider Earthlink. Instead, they had chosen Google as their preferred search engine and had decided not to renew their contract. The resulting news saw their stock price plummet 41% in a day. This was obviously bad news for Overture and investors.
Just as things were looking good for Google they were hit with a lawsuit from Overture against their ad placement tools. A key issue from the trial was Google’s method in selling and displaying advertising which appeared at the top above search results just like today. Overture’s argument was that it infringed one of their patents, specifically patent 6,269,361 which is related to the features and innovations surrounding bid-for-placement products.
According to the filing at the time, the patent covers 67 individual claims, including exclusive rights to a “system for enabling an advertising website promoter using a computer network to update information relating to a search listing”.
Later on in the year, Overture was hit by another setback. AOL decided not to renew their contract and instead went for a deal with Google. At this time it was clear that Google was quickly becoming a dominant force in the online marketing world.
- March – Overture buys AllTheWeb in an attempt to make their own search engine
- 4th March – Google launches Adsense which allows publishers to advertise on their websites
- 28th April – Overture completes purchases of Alta Vista for $106 million
- April – Google acquires Applied Semantics to enhance their AdSense platform
- 7th October – Yahoo acquires Overture Services for $1.63 billion
As 2002 came to an end, it was clear that Overture needed to do something, and fast. With Google beginning to quickly rise in power, Overture decided to do everything they could to increase their competitive advantage. This meant purchasing two companies – AllTheWeb and Alta Vista. Both of these companies were acquired so that Overture could attempt to make their own search engine. With all the technology they required, all they needed to do was work on building their search engine and promote it to users.
However, Overture never got the chance to make their dream a reality.
After losing two significant deals and seeing their stock price plummet over the space of a few months, Yahoo decided it was a good time to purchase Overture. At the time Overture had been monetizing Yahoo’s search engine for the past few years, and with their contract came up for renewal it was a no brainer for them. Yahoo paid $1.63 billion for the company and took exclusive control of its PPC marketing model. This essential shifted Yahoo into one of Google’s main competitors. With their own search engine and PPC model, Yahoo was the only real threat to Google and its AdWords platform.
A few months later after the acquisition, Google decided to expand its online advertising network and unveiled their new system called Google AdSense. This allowed Google to advertise on thousands of new websites and allowed publishers to generate revenue from displaying ads on their websites. Previously Google only advertised on their search engine, but with the introduction of AdSense, advertisers now had a much wider range of websites to choose from. Not only did this give Google a significant competitive advantage over other PPC networks, but it also changed the PPC industry forever.
- Google reaches $1 billion of online advertising revenue
- Google’s search market share hits 84.7%
- 4th February – Facebook is launched as thefacebook.com
- August – Google loses its lawsuit against Overture
- August 18th – Google goes public at $85 a share, valuing the company at $23 billion
2004 saw many important milestones in Google’s history which had also never seen before in the PPC industry. However, not everything went to plan. A lengthy lawsuit that started in 2002 when Overture was an independent company finally came to an end with Google paying up hundreds of millions. Google finally settled the lawsuit by giving Yahoo 2.7 million shares worth $260 – $290 million at the time. Since Yahoo bought Overture for $1.63 billion in 2003, they received the full settlement which basically knocked millions of the purchase price.
Although it was an expensive year for Google, they still had some things to smile about. Not only did they reach the $1 billion dollar milestone of online advertising revenue, but they also saw a peak in their market share of 84.7%. Considering that Google had only become a registered company in 1998, its growth and market share was exceptionally impressive. For other companies in the industry, it was a clear sign of how powerful Google where.
2004 was also that year that Google finally went public and became listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange under the ticker symbol GOOG. At the time of the IPO, it gave the company a valuation of around $23 billion. At the same time, search engine rivals Yahoo also cashed in on the IPO as they owned 8.2 million shares of Google from previous lawsuits and purchases. This resulted in around $697 million of holding profits for the company which needed every penny they could to battle Google.
- Google launches its own campaign management service Jumpstart
- Google launch the Google Advertising Professional program to certify AdWords users
- 14th February – The domain YouTube.com is registered
- April – Overture Changes its name to Yahoo Search Marketing
- 14th November – Google analytics is released to help advertisers and webmasters
2005 saw many changes in the world of pay per click marketing, including fierce competition between various ad networks. Google was on the up after receiving billions of funding from its IPO. This allowed Google to expand its services massively while also improving their existing ones. One of the new services Google decided to launch was their own AdWords campaign management service called Jumpstart. After all, if Google made the AdWords PPC network, then they should know the best practices and how to get the best results, right? By offering campaign management services to companies, Google managed to get even more revenue from existing advertisers.
In order to improve on the success of AdWords, Google decided that it was time to launch an analytics platform to help users with their websites and ads. To develop its Google Analytics platform, Google acquired the software corporation Urchin Software Corp in April of 2005.
Upon the release of their analytics suite, Google had to limit registrations due to the huge demand from advertisers. This lead to a lottery-like invitation model while Google worked on upgrading their servers to withstand the capacity.
Unknown to Google, 2005 was the year YouTube.com registered their domain name, and the rest they say is history!
- 24th January – AdWords Editor beta released
- 31st March – Local Business Ads are released
- 11th May – Google trends is released
- 10th October – Google acquires YouTube for $1.65 billion
In 2006, Google invested a lot of time into its core services in a bid to increase user engagement. This primarily involved producing a range of new tools to help users get the most out of their existing services.
One of those tools that Google released was the AdWords Editor, which allowed AdWords users to edit their ads quicker and easier via a desktop app. At its launch, only a select few got to try it out while others had to join a waiting list to experience this new tool.
A few months later, Google released a new type of ad for users which was called the local business ad. This type of ad allowed advertisers to display their company on Google maps as a sponsored link and appear to users who are searching for relevant products or services.
To help paid search and SEO professionals get the right data to make decisions, Google also launched its trends tool, which allows users to track the trend of topics and keywords.
To complete their year of launching new tools and services, Google also acquired YouTube in October for a cool $1.65 billion. With the fastest growing video sharing platform under their belt, it was probably evident that they were going to turn it into a money-making machine somehow.
- 3rd May – YouTube Partners program is launched
- 17th May – New Google Analytics interface is released
- 15th June – AdWords IP exclusions introduced
- September – The first YouTube ads are launched
- 6th November – Facebook Ads is launched
Following on from their new services and tools in 2006, Google didn’t stop there with their new paid search additions.
After acquiring YouTube the year before, Google launched its YouTube partners program that paid participants a share of ad revenue for their content. This incentivized program allowed YouTube to grow at an incredible rate while also attracting new advertisers and content makers to the platform. However, most YouTube ads didn’t actually start showing on videos until late August.
In June of 2007, Google released a new feature in order to give advertisers more control over who sees their ads. This feature, known as the AdWords IP exclusion list lets advertisers add IP addresses whom they don’t want to see their ads.
In early November, another pay per click competitor entered the market with Facebook (the fastest growing social network at the time) launching its Facebook Ads network. Although not a direct paid search competitor like Bing Ads, Facebook’s size and audience make it an excellent pay per click option for advertisers to invest in.
- 14th April – Google buys DoubleClick for $3.1 billion
- 30th April – Google TV ads is launched
- 2nd September – Google Chrome is released
- 31st October – Google allows ads for beer and liqueurs
The financial crisis might have been causing havoc in 2008, but that didn’t stop Google from splashing the cash and acquiring businesses as well as releasing new PPC services throughout the year.
To expand their advertising network, Google acquired DoubleClick in April for $3.1 billion. The sale gave Google access to advertisement software as well as existing relationships with web publishers, advertisers and ad agencies. This acquisition allowed Google to expand their existing PPC network while bringing in new clients and cementing their position as the market leaders in paid search ads.
Shortly after their acquisition of DoubleClick in April, Google launched Google TV Ads, a flexible and digital system for buying TV advertising. This might sound like a strange move from Google to get into TV advertising as they are known for search advertising, but things were about to get weirder.
On the 2nd of September after an internal mistake, Google accidentally announced its Google Chrome browser. At the time, the web browser market was dominated by Firefox and Internet Explorer which made the announcement a real headscratcher. But with Google being a household name, many users changed their browser without hesitation.
The final surprise of 2008 was Google’s lifting of restrictions on beer and liquor ads. Since the launch of AdWords, Google had strict restrictions on what type of products could be advertised. After reviewing their policies they decided it was acceptable to allow ads for beer and liquor (after calculating how much more money they would make).
- 26th March – New AdWords interface
- 17th September – The size of the DoubleClick network is increased
- October – “Mesothelioma” becomes the most expensive keyword in paid search
- 11th November – New product listing ads released
After continued growth from Google in the pay per click industry, Google had plenty of big plans in 2009 to cement themselves as the market leaders.
The first major change was a completely new AdWords interface in March which involved drastic UI changes to make campaign management faster, clearer, and more intuitive. After having a secret closed beta for several months, they finally released the beta version to the public and the world of PPC changed forever.
During 2009 there were also reports of keywords on the Google network reaching almost $100 per click. In a report made by AdGooroo at the time, they reported that the keyword “mesothelioma” sold on Google for an incredible $99.44 per click, making it the most expensive paid click sold at the time. Considering someone was willing to pay nearly $100 for a single click, this confirmed that pay per click was becoming more popular and trusted in the digital marketing industry.
In mid-September, Google announced it was increasing the size of its DoubleClick network and increasing the number of websites and display ad formats available. Not only was this big news for everyone using the Google PPC network, but for the PPC industry in general. When a network increases its reach, it opens up a lot of opportunities to advertisers in new people they can target.
To end 2009 with a bang, Google also unveiled their new product listing ads which opened a whole new door for retailers and eCommerce stores. With the ability to list ads on Google’s shopping search engine, these ads were like nothing Google had released in the past and quickly became a popular ad format for online stores.
- 28th January – Click to call phone numbers are shown on mobile devices
- 25th March – Remarketing comes to the Google Display Network
- 11th May – Broad match modifier is released in beta
- 27th May – Google acquires AdMob
2010 was the year that Google started to focus more on mobile devices as they quickly recognized the importance it would have in the future of pay per click marketing.
In January of 2010, Google made a subtle change to its mobile ads and introduced click to call phone numbers. Before this, users had to manually type out the phone number (what a first world problem!) but thanks to Google’s “innovation” they realised they could increase their ads click-through rate by making them clickable.
A few months later in March, Google took their display network to the next level and introduced a new marketing campaign called “remarketing”. This type of campaign allowed advertisers to retarget users who had already visited their website using their vast 3rd party display network. With the ability to track past users over a range of websites, this made it possible to attract users back to a store much cheaper than having to pay for normal search ads. Even today, remarketing campaigns are incredibly cost-effective and powerful.
Continuing with their theme of targeting mobile devices, Google also acquired AdMob in late May, which specialized in mobile advertising on devices. Since acquiring the company, AdMob now focuses on mobile advertising solutions for platforms including Android and iOS.
In addition to expanding their existing services, 2010 was also the year that they introduced a new keyword targeting feature called the broad match modifier. Unlike their existing broad modifier, the broad match modifier gave advertisers more control over what keywords triggered their ads. 10 years later and PPC managers still use the broad match modifier regularly within their campaigns.
- 10th January – Negative keywords can now be added in lists
- 28th June – Seller rating extensions introduced
- 25th July – AdWords Express is launched
- 16th August – New enhanced CPC bidding feature
- 5th December – AdBlock Plus whitelists Google Ads
Throughout 2011, Google focused explicitly on their AdWords platform, adding a range of new features to help managers get the most out of their ads.
The first new feature they introduced was negative keyword lists. Prior to the negative keywords list being introduced, PPC managers had to manually set them for every campaign. That’s pretty annoying when you want to set the same negative keywords for all of your campaigns at once. Keyword lists allowed managers to set a list of negative keywords across multiple campaigns with the click of a button, saving lots of time and repetition.
Their next release was a new ads extension to help customers find the best-rated merchants on Google. This extension, known as the seller rating extension, let merchants integrate their review rating into their ads in a similar way like their rating schema.
In mid-July, Google also released its AdWords Express service (formerly known as Boost) to help small businesses owners get started setting up ads. Aimed at business owners who found AdWords “too complicated” or difficult in the past, AdWords Express lets users start paid search campaigns with little input. Google then handles the bidding, targeting and keywords to get them the best results.
After nearly a decade of the same cost per click bidding methods, Google released a new bidding strategy in August called enhanced CPC. Unlike other bidding strategies, enhanced CPC uses historical data of past conversions to decide whether to add a positive or negative bid multiplier on a certain keyword. Overall this is meant to help increase ROI by getting the most out of a user’s budget.
In other PPC news, December also saw a controversial move from the popular AdBlocking software AdBlock Plus. In a new update, they whitelisted all ads from Google, allowing them to be displayed to users for the first time. This caused a lot of controversies as many people had installed the plugin to block ads completely. Their response was that by allowing “acceptable ads” from trusted sources such as Google, websites could survive off ad revenue instead of having to find alternative incomes such as paywalls. A few years later, there were some reports that Google paid AdBlock Plus to whitelist their ads, causing more uproar.
- 10th April – Facebook acquires Instagram for $1 billion
- 18th May – Facebook goes public at $38 a share, valuing the company at $104 billion
- 13th June – Facebook launches Facebook Exchange
- 14th June – AdWords scripts are launched in beta
Google might have been the market leader for pay per click ads for nearly a decade, but the competition from other PPC networks started to ramp up in 2012.
Facebook shot the starting pistol with its acquisition of Instagram for $1 billion. At the time, many people weren’t sure why they purchased the company, but it would later become an important part of their ad network.
Shortly after buying Instagram, Facebook went public on the NASDAQ exchange in one of the biggest and most anticipated IPOs ever. On the first day of trading, Facebook opened at $38 a share and valued the company at an impressive $104 billion, making it a considerable challenger to Google.
Almost a launch after there somewhat initially disappointing IPO, Facebook launched its ad exchange dubbed the Facebook Exchange. This exchange allowed advertisers to remarketing users who had visited their website, very similar to Google’s display remarketing ads. This Facebook Exchange was the start of Facebook’s vast marketing platform that allowed advertisers to target users they simply couldn’t reach with Google.
While Google didn’t release any significant updates or features in 2012, they did release AdWords Scripts. These scripts allowed managers to write custom code that could be used to automate mundane tasks. AdWords scripts are still used today by many PPC managers and can offer free alternatives for paid PPC tools.
- 6th February – Enhanced campaigns are launched
- 20th February – Twitter Ads API is released
- 20th May – Google Keyword Planner is announced
- 27th August – The Keyword Planner tool officially launches
13 might be an unlucky number, but for the pay per click industry, 2013 was a relatively good year!
The start of 2013 saw the rollout of enhanced campaigns from Google. Aimed at targeting users over multiple devices, the enhanced campaigns condensed many campaigns into one making them much easier to manage. This reduced the number of ads that managers had to create while helping increase their ads engagement and
Around the same time, another big pay per click player Twitter also announced the release of their Twitter Ads API. The API made managing and creating ads much easier than before and opened up a whole new world of possibilities to advertisers.
After years of Google’s keyword and traffic estimator tool, Google decided to streamline the tools and turn them into one keyword planner tool for easier use. The announcement for their new keyword planner came out on 20th May with confirmation that their existing tools would be retired in “about 60 days”. The official launch of the new keyword planner took place on 27th August.
- 23rd January – Google loses a patent infringement case
- 18th February – Shopping campaigns launched globally
- 1st May – Facebook launches mobile ads audience network
- 3rd July – Google blocks adult advertising on AdWords
2014 saw a few big changes in the world of PPC including Google losing a patent case, new ads types being launched and stricter marketing guidelines.
The first newsworthy announcement was Google losing a patent infringement case against a patent-holding company who claimed AdWords used its technology and violated its patents. The jury ruled in favor of Vringo and ordered Google to pay them over $30 million as well as a 3.5% royalty fee. Vringo also sued Microsoft for the same patents in 2011 but settled out of court.
After an extended beta test for selected advertisers, Google finally released their shopping campaigns worldwide for all advertisers to take advantage of. This allowed advertisers to promote their entire inventory while taking advantage of Google’s shopping search feature. Even today, shopping campaigns are very popular and allows advertisers to display their stock to millions of potential buyers online.
In May of 2014, Facebook unveiled another huge addition to their ads network by announcing its new Audience Network. This announcement would see Facebook use 3rd party apps in their advertising network to target people outside of their website which made Facebook a big competitor to the likes of Google’s display network.
After having relaxed advertising rules since 2002, Google finally decided to restrict adult content from its advertising network. This ban was specifically targeting pornography websites, while places like strip clubs and dating were still permitted.
- 20th February – Call-only campaigns released on AdWords
- 12th May – Facebook launches Instant Articles for publishers
- May 2015 – Mobile search volume exceeds desktop volume for the first time in 10 countries
- 29th June – Microsoft signs 10-year deal for AOL to use Bing ads and listings
- 14th October – Facebook pixel is launched
2015 was an important year for pay per click marketing. With lots of new features by different PPC networks being launched, many of these features became industry game-changers which have helped transform the PPC industry.
In February, Google launched a brand new type of campaign called call-only campaigns, which allowed advertisers to specifically target mobile devices with “call to click ads”. This skips the need for a landing page and results in direct calls to the phone number, resulting in less of a drop off from user’s clicks.
Meanwhile, in May, Facebook launched a new ad type called instant articles which allows advertisers to create engaging Facebook articles instantly. Not only does this feature save the time of making the ads, but it also offers additional benefits such as faster loading speeds and them less likely to abandon the article.
2015 was also the same time that mobile search volume exceeded desktop volume for the first time in 10 countries, marking the start of mobile advertising phenomenon. Since then, many PPC networks have embraced mobile advertising and created specific ad formats and campaigns to capture the market.
In other search engine news, Microsoft signed a 10 year deal with AOL (yes they still exist!) to use their Bing ads and listings on their search engine. This was relatively big news as Google had held the contract with AOL them since 2002, although AOL is nowhere near as big or important as they used to be.
Near the end of 2015, Facebook unveiled one of their biggest marketing advancements in a long time with the Facebook pixel. This pixel allowed advertisers to capture important information about their visitors which could be then used to optimize their ads for conversions, build audience profiles and get rich insights about users.
- 21st February – Removal of right-side ads on Google
- 25th July – It is announced Yahoo will be purchased by Verizon for $4.8 billion
- 24th May – Expanded text ads introduced
- 25th May – Facebook shuts down its Facebook Exchange in favor of FB Ads
- 11th August – Facebook starts to block ad-blockers
2016 saw some interesting changes in the world of PPC as networks continually introduced new tweaks and features to their platforms.
For decades, Google had displayed adverts on the right-hand side of its search engine, but in 2016 Google decided to make the ads more native by only displaying them at the top or bottom. This way they blended in a lot better and significantly increased the chances that users clicked them, which in turn helps Google make even more money.
In February, one of the first PPC networks, Yahoo, was finally acquired in a huge deal by Verizon. A telecommunications company based in the US, Verizon bought the search engine Yahoo for a huge $4.8 billion which still operates today under its brand name. Once the biggest and most well-known search engine in the world, nowadays Yahoo is nowhere near as big or important as it used to be.
After tweaking their ad formats regularly over the years, Google made one of the biggest changes to their ads for a while. This change introduced expanded text ads and significantly increased the length of the description and title. The change came after Google’s switch to focus on mobile search and wanted to implement changes that would benefit mobile users.
A few days after Google’s expanded text announcement, Facebook also announced a mobile-related change to their ad network. After a few years of running their Facebook exchange, Facebook decided to shut it down in favour of their Facebook Ads platform. A statement from Facebook’s Vice President of Monetization Product Marketing said the move was part of Facebook’s shift to mobile as over 82% of ad revenue came from mobile traffic.
Later on in the year, Facebook was also in the news again as they introduced AdBlock avoidance to their network. By making their adverts more native to the platform, this allowed them to blend in easier with no distinguishing code saying which posts were ads. The result was AdBlocker not being able to block them and many users complaining.
- 13th June – Verizon officially acquires Yahoo incorporating into their company
- 23rd June – Google stops reading emails for Gmail ads
- 27th June – Googled fined €2.42 billion for shopping ads
- 17th March – Close variants are tweaked on Google AdWords
2017 was an interesting year for Google as they received considerably bad press for a number of changes they made to their network. Meanwhile, other PPC networks kept out of the spotlight and carried on their business as usual.
The first newsworthy mention of the year was the completion of the Yahoo sale to Verizon. Announced last year, the deal finally went through and saw Verizon take control of the famous Yahoo brand.
Shortly after, Google announced that they were stopping reading user’s emails for their AdWords platform, which they had previously been doing for years. Ever since Google announced it would start reading user’s emails, the company has received lots of criticism and worries of privacy breaches.
Although Google probably thought it would improve their public image by announcing they would stop reading user’s emails, the good publicity didn’t last long. In June of 2017, Google was hit with a record-breaking €2.42 billion fine by the European Commission for antitrust practices. According to the EU commission, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by giving an illegal advantage to another Google product, its comparison shopping service.
The bad news might have ruined Google’s public image, but it was still business as usual for the world’s largest PPC network as they announced a close variants tweak. This tweak changed the keyword variants that triggered ads to include additional rewording and reordering for exact match keywords. The summary of the changes is that Google would trigger more close match keywords so advertisers didn’t have to make as many campaigns. It also meant that Google would likely receive more clicks.
- 30th January – Facebook bans all cryptocurrency ads
- 15th February – Google introduces its chrome AdBlocker
- 14th March – Google bans crypto-currency adverts
- 24th July – AdWords is renamed to Google Ads
If there’s one thing 2018 will be remembered for, it will be for the fall of crypto-currencies. Not only did a lot of them take a huge drop like Bitcoin, but 2018 was also the year that many PPC networks decided to ban them.
The first PPC network to ban crypto-currency ads was Facebook in January with a ban targeting all crypto-currency services and products. Facebook said the ban was due to deceptive ads and advertisers not promoting coins in good faith. The new policy was left “intentionally broad” as it was an ongoing policy that was being tweaked, but the main objective was to stop advertisers from promoting ICO scams.
One of the biggest announcements of 2018 was Google introducing its own AdBlocker on Google Chrome. The update was made to target especially annoying ads and would only show “acceptable ads” that followed certain guidelines. For many other ad networks, this was worrying news, but also brought about a lot of change to the industry. With millions of people using Chrome, many ad networks had to change their ads to ensure Google wouldn’t block them. Overall, this helped make the industry a much better place and raised the standard of acceptable ads.
Shortly after Facebook had announced its ban on cryptocurrency ads, Google also followed suit and released a similar policy. Although it was announced in March the ban wasn’t immediate and was actually released in June of 2018. This crackdown on crypto became huge news in the industry and hundreds of companies had been running crypto-related ads in the past.
But banning crypto-ads wasn’t even the biggest news of the year. In mid-July, after 18 years, Google finally changed the name of their AdWords service. The new name, Google Ads, was slowly rolled out across their platforms, although many Google help articles and PPC managers still refer to it as Google AdWords today.
- 21st January – Google fined €50 million over GDPR
- 20th March – Google fined €1.49 billion for abusive online advertising practices
- 14th May – New ad types released on Google mobile ads
- 31st October – Twitter bans all political advertising
- 21st November – Google restricts political advert targeting
- 20th December – Google fined €150 million by France for their ad rules
2019 might only seem like yesterday, and you can probably remember everything that happened, but it’s always good to review the main highlights throughout the year.
GDPR was a huge European Policy that was announced in 2016 and implemented in 2018, however, the fines only started to come to light in 2019. In January Google was hit with a €50 million fine by French regulators over its GDPR compliance. The fine was specifically regarding their ads and their lack of transparency, inadequate information and lack of valid consent regarding ads personalisation.
And that wouldn’t be the only fine Google would receive in 2019. A few months later in March, Google received a €1.49 billion fine for abusing its monopoly in online advertising. The exact specifications of the fine related to Google displaying adverts on 3rd party websites who wanted to use their search functionality. In order to use the search functionality, Google forced the businesses to sign contracts agreeing to it. The fine is just one of many they have received in recent years over their practices and policies.
In May of 2019, Google announced that they would be introducing some new ad types for mobile devices. One of the main new ad types was the “gallery” format which allows users to swipe through like a post on Instagram. This type of ad is 25% more likely to receive interactions compared to other ad formats.
Over a year after both Google and Facebook banned advertisers from running crypto ads, Twitter made a huge decision to ban all political ads on its platform. The basis of the ban was that the reach of political messages should be earned and not bought.
Shortly after Twitter’s announcement, Google also followed suit and announced new restrictions to political adverts. The changes remove the ability for advertisers to target people via political leanings and only allows them to focus on general categories. Google also said it would remove any ads that make “false claims”.
The final big news of 2019 was Google being fined €150 million by France for their inconsistent and opaque ad rules. The report also said that Google applies them in an unfair and random manner. This fine might have been the 3rd one they received in 2019, but it was by no means the biggest.