Looking back at 20 years of Google Ads

Jan 8, 2021 by
Looking back at 20 years of Google Ads

This October, Google Ads turned 20. That might be a sobering thought for those of us who have been in this game for a while, but it only serves to underline what a formidable force the platform has become – particularly in recent years, since shedding the AdWords branding.

To celebrate and venerate this most forward-thinking and increasingly relevant of marketing platforms, we thought we’d take a look back through its history, focusing on the highlights and the lowlights along the way.

It’s worth remembering that, back in the year 2000, before it became the $135 billion business it is today, AdWords existed at a time when Yahoo and AOL were still major players in the search game.

To say a lot has changed would be an understatement but to gain some perspective, let’s sort by going back to the beginning.

October 23, 2000 – On this date, when AdWords launched, it did so with a humble 350 advertisers on board.

Although, this was actually Google’s second shot at the pie after their failed Premium Sponsorship experiment launched just two months prior.

2002 – After about 18 months, Adwords had started to find its feet but Google was still experimenting with different models.

In 2002, they settled on a cost-per-click auction mode that allows advertisers to bid on how much they would pay per click. This soon became an industry-standard model.

2003 – AdSense was launched in May, allowing users to display targeted AdWords on their own sites. AdSense remains a major part of the Google Ads platform to this day. This was also the year that Cambridge Web Marketing began working with AdWords – the start of a long, fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship.

2005 – Some more big changes this year as Site Targeting was introduced to let advertisers choose specific sites rather than just keywords.

Later on in the year, meanwhile, the Quality Score system was introduced and at the end of the year, one of the most significant updates touched down as Google Analytics joined the party.

2006 – In January, the AdWords Editor is released, allowing users to make quick edits to their account. Fast-forward to March and local business ads are also enabled that allow advertisers to promote their business location on the Google Local map, complete with phone numbers and images. This is a subtle game-changer for many local businesses.

2009 – AdWords allows advertisers to target users based on their interests and Sitelinks are born, letting them provide additional links to deeper content.

2011 – New AdWords targeting options are released based on physical location and Dynamic Search Ads are released by the end of the year.

These combine the power of the web crawler with knowledge of a site’s inventory to automatically generate an ad and destination URL based on the query and the website content. Another game-changer.

2013 – Enhanced Campaigns are introduced which allow advertisers to manage campaigns across all devices without having to set up multiples.

This is a major boon to an industry starting to seriously feel the impact of smartphones on the digital landscape.

2016 – AdWords continues to pivot to a mobile-first approach and changes the colour of the ad indicator from yellow to green to make the differences between ads and organic results less obvious. Text ad limits are also increased, allowing for two headlines of 30 characters each and one description line of 80 characters.

At the end of the year, AdWords unlocks the ability for marketers to apply audience lists at a campaign level.

2017 – Smart Display Campaigns and “Similar Audiences” and “Customer Match” options are added to search and shopping. In August, meanwhile, AdWords rolled out landing pages to help marketers visualise how their ads are performing.

2018 – AdWords is dead –  long live Google Ads!