As ever, the past year has been a busy one for Google and it has made many changes to the AdWords interface, settings and the ads that we see on Google everyday. Here is a quick summary of the important changes Google has made in 2011 and the impact they have had on how we advertise.

At the beginning of the year, Google implemented changes to the Ad Preview tool, retiring the old Ad Diagnostic tool and instead combining it with the ad preview tool in a single ‘Ad Preview and Diagnosis’ tool under the ‘Tools and Analysis’ tab in AdWords.

This has become a really useful feature for those advertisers that are targeting ads to a location that they are not in. The advertisers can preview results from their chosen locations and Google domains to see if their ads are appearing, and if not, why not.

In February Automated Rules became available to all advertisers after its launch in December 2010. This feature allows AdWords advertisers to automate ads, pausing or adjusting ads bids based on their performance, ie. when the CTR drops below a chosen value etc. This is another great feature for those managing multiple campaigns and ads.

Also back in February Google launched a new ad rotation setting “Optimise for conversions: Show ads expected to provide more conversions”. This feature uses both click through rate and conversion rate data from your ads to determine which ad is performing better at driving conversions and therefore chooses to show that ad more often in the auctions.

Personally I still choose to “Rotate: Show ads more evenly” and make that decision for myself.

February also saw the launch of longer headlines for selected in ads. For example, in cases where each line of an ad is a distinct sentence and ends in a punctuation mark, the first line of description is moved to the headline, separated by a hyphen:

This was later followed in May with the inclusion of the domain in headlines of applicable ads (also seen above). Both of these features were aimed to help increase CTR for ads and help advertisers make their messaging or brand more apparent within the small character limits of an ad. As Google does not report on this it is hard to know whether it works or not and is again only applicable to the ‘top’ performing ads.

At was in March that the +1 button was launched for AdWords ads which allows signed-in Google users to recommend the content and ads that they like on the web to their friends and contacts. These stats can be seen within AdWords under the segment drop down. From experience we have not seen a lot of evidence of the +1 button being used on AdWords ads. Have you?

Back in April 2011 Google launched instant preview for ads allowing users to instantly view the contents of the landing page of an ad by hovering their cursor over the arrow to the right of the ad without having to click through.

June saw the launch of embedded site links in AdWords ads, allowing advertisers to embed deep links to their sites’ within the description of their ads. This is a very subtle change that requires a bit of work to get right as you have to be able to include the site link terms / phrases within the character limitations of the two description lines of an ad; normal site links extensions are a lot easier and distinctive.

It was in July that Google launched the Top vs. Side segment, allowing advertisers to see when their ads are performing better based on which area of the page they are located. This is another useful and interesting feature, generally showing that when ads are within the top positions the CTR is higher than when found at the side / bottom of the page, which is to be expected. However, if that is not the case for some keywords or ads then it is very useful for advertisers to know.

In October AdWords Express and Dynamic ads (beta) were launched, two tools aimed to help automate the ad creation process for those with little experience with AdWords or a high volume of products on sale on their websites.

Finally in November product listing ads were rolled out to the UK allowing advertisers to include images, prices and links to specific products on their sites’. This is a feature that Google claims has helped those advertisers using it to improve their CTRs and Conversion Rates, as the user can see the products before clicking through and incurring a cost for the advertiser.

In summary, there have been many changes to AdWords throughout 2011, some of which have not made a huge amount of difference to ad performance but Google has added some features that have proved very useful, such as ‘Ad Preview and Diagnosis’, ‘Top vs. Side Segment’ and also ‘Automated Rules’ (if used properly).

We hope that Google will continue trying to improve the platform and the relevancy of its results in 2012. Happy New Year.