What the new interface design says about Google Ads

At time of writing, the latest iteration of the Google Ads interface has been around for a few months.

Roughly half of the accounts I’m logging into have now jumped; the other half still teetering nervously on the edge.

old
new
So, are we talking them down, or goading them on?

My reaction when I first commented on the design update back in March, was that it projected a sadly ‘dumbed down’ window into Google Ads…

That it addressed problems that didn’t exist with its over-simplification of categories and terminology, and its over-sized navigation and iconography

(And certainly one of the improvements since then is the decision not  to add unnecessary icons at every opportunity:)

March 2023
December 2023

But the changes brought in with the new design are not just cosmetic.

It’s one thing for the ‘look and feel’ to become more basic, but we are also seeing a move away from the interface as a ‘genuine, well-stocked toolkit’ towards an ‘FYI dashboard’ – and not just in tone…

There are some design choices here that actually make the interface less useful, and they do so in a way that tells us a lot about Google’s vision of Google Ads.

Search Terms

One of the most used screens in the interface, The trusty Search Terms report, has moved from its old position under the ‘Keywords’ dropdown, to a slightly isolated-looking position under ‘Insights and reports’.

(The literal separation of ‘keywords’ and ‘search terms’ is amusingly appropriate and I’m sure – as with most the changes I’ll highlight in this post – perfectly intentional.)

Apart from the unnecessary friction caused by moving an important screen away from its long-established position, its new place in the taxonomy slightly implies a role as an ‘informational’ view, rather than the actionable tool that we need it to be.

The Search Terms report – and the negatives it shows we need – remains one of the central tools of keyword management. On that basis, surely it should stay where it was, in the Keywords section?

But wait, where is that Keywords section…?

Keywords

Rather than keeping its place in the top-level navigation, this traditionally central component of our campaigns has been significantly downgraded.

We now find it lumped in with ‘audiences’ and ‘content’.

This shift in layout illustrates the diminished role of keywords (as Google would like to portray it) in a few ways:

1) keywords are no longer presented as one of the main components of campaign structure along with ad groups and ads

2) while the old design has keywords as a top-level dropdown – now they’re just one among many – as if thrown onto an ‘other’ or ‘miscellaneous’ pile

3) within this (slightly shoehorned) set of topics, they’re not even the first in this list, with audiences coming first, then keywords, then ‘content’

This one-among-many presentation is a clear demotion for the keyword, but it’s also absolutely in-keeping with Google’s move away from the keyword as the main character of Google Ads.

(This move has been ongoing for many years, and was clearly signalled by the name change from AdWords to Google Ads back in 2018)

Negative Keywords

Along with the search term, its partner in defensive optimisation, the negative keyword, has also migrated away from the (now dispersed) keyword section.

But unlike search terms, negative keywords are now genuinely hard to find.

This area above the graph has never been used for essential navigation in the past (another dose of friction for the user acquainted with the old interface) and if you want an option to be used, you don’t render it as unbordered grey text on a grey background…

As for negative keyword lists, they are now only found under ‘exclusion lists’ in the shared library.

I don’t think it would be overly cynical to assume a degree of intent behind making these two screens less immediately accessible.

Campaigns

The most viewed screen of all – the campaigns view – is now a third-tier option.

The default view that comes up when you click the initial ‘campaigns’ option in the far left nav takes you to (of course) the ‘Overview’ screen.

If you really want to see your campaigns, you have to dig under Campaigns > Campaigns > Campaigns (say it three times and it might just appear!)

Again, the sense is that Google doesn’t really want us reaching too often or too easily into the contents of our Google Ads setup (the algorithm can do that….)

A less consequential point, but again I think quite revealing, is the megaphone symbol chosen for the campaigns section.

The USP of Google Ads used to be precisely its differentiation from ‘broadcast’ forms of marketing (i.e. users come to us based on intent, not we to them in order to turn heads).

In my Google days we had presentations that used a megaphone to represent precisely what Google Ads campaigns weren’t.

Again – that shift in emphasis is not news (I go deeper into it and what it means for campaign optimisation in the free mini course How Google Ads Has Changed) – but it’s interesting to see these little ways in which it manifests itself.

Reports

Within the insights and reporting section, the most useful tool for generating true insights (and uncovering waste that is otherwise invisible) is the report editor.

The report editor is where a lot of finer detail can be found – like actual user location data, PMax placements, and Auction Insights activity over time. The kinds of information that we need for fine tuning.

In the previous interface this is called simply ‘reports’, and given top-level navigation status:

Sadly, this useful section is another one that has been more deeply hidden – now tucked away in the third tier, under ‘campaigns’ > insights and reports > Report editor

When and where ads showed

Also found under Insights and Reports is this (oddly, imprecisely named) section.

Within it:

When ads showed makes sense – it’s the day and time report (though notably no clear link from here to the ‘ad schedule’ screen on which you can actually act on that data…)

However, what we see under Where ads showed is not to do with locations – as you might reasonably expect. In fact it’s a placement report.

Matched locations give some geographical data – though again its separation from the interactive Locations screen (found instead under Audiences, keywords and content) is odd.

To give this interpretation of ‘where ads showed’ as a placement report is a clear up-weighting and promotion of YouTube and Display activity within the architecture. Again, all in keeping with what we should expect.

The presence of Devices in this section also feels a bit shoehorned. I suppose it’s another viable interpretation of ‘where’ ads showed… but again not the most intuitive one, in context.

Why increased friction matters

I have always been open about the importance of an account being pleasant to work on.

For example, I suspect the subtle feeling of overwhelm that accompanies a sprawling account structure might well cause us to open that account less often – and engage with it for less long – than we might find ourselves doing if it had a simple, easily navigable structure – however unconsciously.

Look away now, clients, but I would not be surprised if during the transition, I unconsciously find myself spending a little less time in those accounts that have moved over to the new design, compared to those that haven’t.

Of course, that will probably wear off, and this is not the first time that Google’s interface redesigns have stirred up discontent in the PPC community.

But if there’s anything to that speculation… and if its effect is as real as I think it may be, then backward steps in usability (intended or not) are another gentle way to move our human fingers away from the control.

Credit where it's due

The new interface is still changing – and it is improving.

In the course of writing this post, one cause for complaint that would have made it into the list (the hiding of ‘campaign settings’) was resolved with by a new, highly visible, button.

Here’s hoping further improvements like that quickly render the rest of this post out of date.

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