Google Announces Updates for Mobile App Campaigns

Google announced bold changes to their Mobile App campaigns today on the Google AdWords blog, moving to a Universal App Campaign world and giving advertisers far less control and visibility into their campaigns. Google also stated that they plan to sunset all standalone Search, Display (AdMob), and Video campaigns.

Two years ago, Google AdWords released the first version of Universal App Campaigns (UAC), allowing advertisers to reach consumers across Google Search, Google Display Network, the AdMob Network, YouTube, and Google Play all in one campaign type to drive app installs. What started as an Android device only campaign (to optimize towards an install) has made significant developments over the years. Until now, all of these networks could also be reached with their individual campaign types. Today, Google announced that these individual campaign types will no longer be an option starting in October and existing campaigns will sunset in November.

Here at Elite SEM, we typically create standalone campaigns in addition to the UAC program. Our methodology is a waterfall effect, where we use the UAC campaign as the catch all and run the standalone campaigns separately. In doing this, it gives us more control over the program that UAC does not.

So why do we run stand-alone campaigns?

Optimization Features We’ll Miss From Standalone Campaigns

Let’s start with the search component of UAC. There won’t be any reporting that can tell you which search terms are triggering your ads. Search is their bread and butter – to see things moving in a direction of very limited transparency is unfortunate.

Google Search Network

  • No Keywords or Search Term Reporting
  • No Keyword Theme Segmentation
  • Limited Ad Copy
  • No Audiences

Advertisers will no longer be able to break out search campaigns into themes, such as Branded, Non-Branded, Competitor, etc. All Mobile App ad budget will be merged into one campaign and distributed according to Google’s algorithm. Are you hitting 100% Impression Share on Branded terms? Making sure you always serve on a key set of competitor terms? Are you pushing budget towards some of your higher margin Non-Brand keywords that have been working for you? All of this control is being removed, leaving us with a bit of a black box.

The one pro you are able to do is add in negative keywords at the campaign level. But again, there’s no visibility into your search terms. It’s best you base these negatives off of current learnings from existing search campaigns. With search behavior always changing, this initial keyword dump will only do so well.

With UAC, you can create 4 lines of text that are 25 characters in length. These need to be able to be served independently of each other and in any order combination. These 4 lines are what every user can be served, regardless of what they search. Gone are the days of tailoring your messaging based on keyword themes, which seems odd given Ad Relevancy is a key factor in Quality Score.

Universal App Campaigns don’t have any audience features built out. You cannot segment your users in any way. All traffic is served on Self-Attributing Networks, which means Google will recognize if a user has your app installed, and if they do, it will not serve your ad. This means you have one audience, which is anyone that does not have your app that will all be treated equally and with the same ad copy.

Google Display Network

  • No placement reporting
  • No interest or behavior targeting categories

UAC campaigns serve a portion of the ads on the Google Display Network, which does not give you visibility into placements. You can exclude certain placements at the campaign level, but you do not get any reporting on where your ad is serving and how those placements perform. Traditional web display campaigns continue to increase audience and targeting capabilities. The in-market and affinity audiences continue to get more granular, giving advertisers the ability to focus on very niche audiences. The standalone app campaigns are not as robust, where there are only a few topics in the Mobile App and Installed App Categories targeting options. These will soon be phased out and must display the same ads for all users – no audience segmentation or targeting features what so ever.

Biggest Things Universal App Campaigns CANNOT Support

iOS Search Campaigns

  • UAC can only serve search ads in the Google Search app (very small %)

iOS UAC campaigns will only serve ads where Google can track performance. For iOS, Google only serves ads in the Google Search app and not in the other browsers. This is a very small portion of traffic. If you are a Safari user like myself, you will not receive a search ad from a UAC campaign. So how do we currently reach these users? By running a standalone search campaign. Tracking is a little more complex so you typically use a third party bid tool, like Kenshoo or Marin, and integrate with your Mobile Measurement Partner to use Fingerprinting Attribution. Google does not accept Fingerprint attribution. So how will this move to UAC impact iOS reach? It would be silly for Google to pause iOS search campaigns because it would cut off the majority of your iOS search traffic. iOS users are often your highest valued users, combined with Search being one of your most efficient channels. We really hope these don’t go before there is a solution! This will definitely be something to keep a close eye on.

Display & AdMob Campaigns

  • No more Remarketing Campaigns
  • No more Lookalike Campaigns

Standalone Display campaigns allow you to take Device IDs and retarget iOS and Android users on the GDN. UAC doesn’t target users that already have your app. In standalone campaigns, you have the ability to target “Similar To” audiences as a prospecting play. Google populates Similar to Remarketing Lists and Similar to Video Viewers. We have success using these lookalike models that are built off of top audience segments. These audiences will no longer be able to be used for Mobile App Acquisition.

Search Engagement Campaigns – Android

  • No more engagement campaigns for Search

Google currently has a campaign type to re-engage with Android users that already have your app through Search. With these ads, you have the ability to deeplink users to specific parts of the app. This is a great way to get users back into your app, where engagement and conversion rates are typically much stronger than the mobile web. UAC hits all new users, and stopping the standalone campaigns would be taking this away without a solution.

Universal App Campaigns Making Big Improvement

UAC Improvements

  • tCPA and tROAS Biding Strategies for In-App Events
  • Asset Reporting

As mentioned earlier, Google has been making a lot of improvements to Universal App Campaigns. What started as Android and then iOS campaigns with a Cost per Install goal has evolved into having the ability to create an iOS and Android campaign that has a target CPA or target ROAS goal for whichever in-app conversion event you are looking to optimize towards.

The most recent improvement has been the UAC Asset Reporting, which is only available in the new AdWords interface. We noticed this getting rolled out into accounts over the past week or so, allowing you to see performance data for all text, image and video assets. Other than the Asset column, that displays your ad alongside performance, there is a Performance Grouping column that categorizes all live assets as either Learning, Low, Good, or Best. Up until now, there wasn’t any creative insights. We’re still a little skeptical with the performance grouping column, as you’ll see in the screenshot below – the “Best” video has a much lower CTR and CVR than the “Low” performing asset. Either way, this is great progress.


How Does This All Play Out?

This is a clear move towards automation and machine learnings. The space continues to get more complicated and this is a way to take the day to day grunt work off our plates. Moving to complete automation is still concerning to us. The struggle is the lack of control and visibility. You cannot guarantee you will always serve when someone searches keyword X or targeting set placements. These are pretty big changes and can make it difficult to “trust the process”.


If you’ve yet to test Universal App Campaigns, you should start now because the change is coming. If you are running tCPI UAC already, you should test the tCPA/tROAS campaigns alongside the other campaigns.

With the ability to add negative keywords and placements, make sure that you are taking all of your learnings in your standalone campaigns and adding these into your new campaigns.

In case the turn off date in November gets pushed back, you’ll want to make sure you have all of the standalone campaigns you need. We recommend building out campaign shells, even if you keep them paused for now. It would be very surprising to see iOS Search campaigns go away this soon without a solution, so if you see the need for building out more campaigns in the near future, have them ready.

I’ll finish off with our top 3 improvements we’d like to see happen as the UAC program continues to develop and improve.

Our UAC Wish List:

  • Audience Capabilities
  • Search Term Reporting
  • Re-engagement Campaigns on All Networks

We’ll keep you updated as more details unfold!

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