Google is completely redesigning AdWords: Offers first peek

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At more than 15 years old, AdWords is looking like a bit of an old fogey, with an aging facade that looks to be creaking under the weight of hundreds of features accumulated over a decade and a half.

On Monday, the company announced the start of a major redesign process aimed at rejuvenating the AdWords interface. The last time Google touched up AdWords was way back in 2008.

It’s a major undertaking that aims at addressing a number of issues and wishes raised by advertisers. “This re-imagining process is going to take some time, but we’re excited to finally talk about what we’ve been working on for the past year, year and a half,” said Paul Feng, AdWords product management director, by phone last week. AdWords head Jerry Dischler hinted at this overhaul in a keynote discussion at SMX Advanced in Seattle last June, now we are getting the first glimpse at what’s in store.

“The reason we’re rebuilding AdWords is because the world has changed so much in the past two years. AdWords is now over 15 years old and launched when Google was just figuring out what search advertising was. We rebuilt it several years ago for a desktop world — smartphones were only [a] year old. Now we are in probably the biggest shift since AdWords was introduced (and I’d argue perhaps ever) with mobile,” said Feng, “And there is now increased demand on marketers and on AdWords as a platform — advertisers are running ads in search, display, shopping, mobile, video. Ultimately, that’s why we’re re-imagining AdWords.”

Feng said the redesign has been informed largely by talking to advertisers across the spectrum. Three common themes emerged. First, advertisers said it felt like AdWords has been built around products and features, rather than marketers’ needs and objectives. “How the navigation is laid out can be un-intuitive and comes with a high learning curve,” said Feng.  Second, the platform has grown complex, with hundreds of features launching every year that stack up on each other. And third, the basic design looks and feels kind of dated. “The goal is to create a flexible platform for the future,” added Feng.

The redesign is based on Google’s design language, Material Design, that is used in many of its consumer products, like Gmail, Maps and Search.

We asked Feng what’s changing, what isn’t, and when we’re going to get to see this in real life.

Is any functionality changing?

No. Unlike the Enhanced Campaigns update, for example, the redesign won’t affect the way campaigns are structured or run. The focus is on updating the way data is displayed and what is shown when.

What are some examples of what’s going change?

There are a few things that can be gleaned from the Google-supplied screenshot below (click to enlarge). In the image on the left, the Campaigns and ad groups are shown in the left-hand navigation, as they are now, but clicking on an individual campaign brings up a dashboard view that Google is calling an “Overview” screen.

Overviews will be available at the campaign, ad group and ad levels. They show a graphical snapshot of performance — kind of like a more narrowly focused and easier-to-read version of the account-level Home screen in AdWords now. In this view, there are four main metrics surfaced with Clicks and Conversions highlighted and charted below. Then there is a Top ad groups snapshot, as well as an at-a-glance view of the performance split across Devices.

adwords redesign

(Click to enlarge image)

Another thing you’ll notice in the redesign views is that all of the secondary navigation runs along the left side, parallel to the primary navigation. Options such as Locations, Sitelinks and Devices are surfaced in that navigation rather than buried under Settings.

In the screenshot of the Keywords view on the right, the navigation is again simplified with the tertiary nav options of “Keywords,” “Negative Keywords” and “Search Terms” shown at the very top of the window and any non-keyword related navigation removed from view. Now, comparing the above to the complexity of today’s Keyword view is kind of shocking.

current adwords keyword view

In the redesign, only relevant navigation is surfaced in each view. For example, Google is not going to show a “video” tab if you’re not running video. Of, if you’re looking at a display campaign that doesn’t have keywords, Google won’t show a “keywords” tab, explained Feng.

Feng said they’ve had to take Material Design, which was developed with a consumer focus, and adapt it for a B2B environment. Users of Google’s consumer products, though, will be familiar with many of the functional icons, such as the stacked three-dots that shows “overflow” information like additional columns and options that can be applied to a table or chart.

What’s the timeline for the rollout?

Today’s peek is just the first phase in a long process. “We’re building the product as we speak,” said Feng, “and are going to expose features as they become available.”

Google says it will be introducing a small number of advertisers to those facets of the redesign that are built starting today. Over the next 12 to 18 months, areas of the redesign will roll out to select advertisers — big and small — for testing and feedback based on the capabilities they’re using. For example, advertisers running video campaigns will see video campaign management views, while others running Shopping campaigns will see that area of the platform.

The goal is to have the redesign fully rolled out to all users by the end of 2017, says Feng.

Is it an open beta?

No. Google will be reaching out to advertisers, and there’s no way to get yourself added to the testing schedule. “There’s not a specific focus or profile of advertiser [that will be included in the testing]. Some of the initial versions will have an SMB focus since they tend not to use all the features,” explained Feng, “but we plan to make it available across the spectrum for getting feedback.”

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