“Thank you, Bing!” – Search Marketers

On Wednesday, Microsoft made one of the biggest announcements about its Bing search engine that it has in quite some time. This fall, Bing plans to roll out its own version of “enhanced campaigns,” taking away advertisers’ ability to target devices separately as they had in the past and rolling all three (Desktop, Tablet and Smartphone) under one campaign.

This might sound familiar to those of us still shaking our heads over Google’s device philosophy, but there’s a welcome difference in Bing’s version: the ability to set a device bid modifier.

On the surface, this may seem like just another case of Microsoft playing catch-up with its market-share-dominating rival, Google, but I believe Bing is innovating ahead of Google in this case. Unlike Google’s Enhanced Campaigns, Bing is allowing advertisers to control their bids on tablets independent of the desktop or mobile bid.

When Google announced Enhanced Campaigns last year, advertisers were delighted to hear that in most cases the number of campaigns they would have to manage per account would be divided by three.  As they continued to read further into the details, that joy turned into fear and a little bit of outrage as Google would go on to completely remove the ability to target and bid for tablet devices independently.

Why would Google include a bid modifier for mobile devices but not tablet when tablets perform so differently than desktops? Basically, Google no longer differentiates between tablet and desktop searches. In their own words, the lines between desktop and tablet are becoming blurry. While I can agree that the difference between the two devices is becomingmore blurry, they are still two very distinct, with different search patterns and, most importantly, very different on-site behavior.

At the time of Google’s Enhanced Campaigns announcement, I was working at a different agency, on a client that sold private health insurance. Historically, tablets did not convert very well for them because in the pre-Obamacare world, health insurance enrollment forms were much, much longer. Assuming the majority of tablet searchers were lacking a physical keyboard, an 11-page health care enrollment form is not likely something you are going to be filling out on your tablet device.  We did see value in tablet as an assist device, however, so we ran low-budget tablet campaigns at lower bids to drive awareness and hopefully lead to desktop conversions down the road.

This forced our client, whose development team was already working overtime to prepare the website for the Obamacare rollover, to also prioritize their tablet experience. Despite the massive improvements they made to their website to cater to tablets, when the day came where we were forced to switch over to Enhanced Campaigns, all of our fears came true and we saw a significant lift in overall CPA. Tablets now took up a much larger chunk of our digital marketing spend, and there was no way around it.

It’s almost been an entire year since Enhanced Campaigns were rolled out. Despite Google’s assertions, tablets still do not perform as desktop does. The best example I have to prove this is the recent performance for one of the ecommerce clients that I manage. Even before Enhanced Campaigns, they had a top-notch responsive experience on their website that caters to desktop, mobile, and tablet searchers alike. Aside from continued A/B testing, their tablet experience is about as good as it gets, yet conversions cost more than double what they do on desktop:

tablet vs desktop

All that money on tablets could have been reinvested elsewhere, possibly other Google channels, but we just don’t have the option with that much money automatically being thrown (and somewhat wasted) into tablets.

My hope is that Bing’s decision to give advertisers the ability to bid up or down on tablets will send a message to Google. As advertisers, we can help promote this message by praising Bing for the change any chance you get, whether it be tweet, blog, talking to your reps at Google, or maybe even pumping a little extra budget into your efficient Bing campaigns!

Every time our Google reps ask us what they can help us with to make our campaigns more efficient and scale, the answer is almost always the same: “Let us change tablet bids.” I understand that the majority of Google’s revenue is made from AdWords, and the decision to force AdWords campaigns into spending on tablet probably netted them some enormous growth in revenue and some executives getting fat bonus checks.

Larry/Sergey, if you are reading this, save your AdWords team the headache of us nagging about this every week; follow in Bing’s footsteps for once, and let us bid independently on tablets. Tablets are not, and will probably never will be, equal to desktops.

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Sean McEntee
Sean joined 3Q Digital in November 2013 after working previously at Performics and iProspect. Sean holds degrees in Interactive Media from DePaul University and Business Administration from Linkoping University. When he's not helping innovative companies grow, Sean enjoys traveling, building computers, and fondly recalling that one time the Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers.