Google Ads turns 22: A look back at the biggest changes and advances in search

Google Ads turns 22: A look back at the biggest changes and advances in search

A lot has happened over the years from testing newspaper and audio ads to automation and Performance Max stepping in and taking over.

Every five years Search Engine Land likes to put together a sort of birthday tribute to the search engine, online advertising, cloud computing, computer software, quantum computing, e-commerce, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics giant that we know as Google. Take a look at their big 2-0.

But given all that’s happened in search the last two years, we think it’s about time to pop the champagne, cut the cake, and settle in for a new, yearly, honoring.

Let’s get to it!


Keyword match types

Keyword match types seem to be the gift that keeps on giving, or in Google’s case, taking away. This time Google’s simplified phrase match worried advertisers with some acknowledging how similarly BMM and phrase match have behaved, and others denouncing the change as a move to strip away more data and controls from advertisers so that Google can extract as much profit from auctions as possible.

Farewell, broad-match modified keywords. Google expanded phrase-match to be included in broad match, to the chagrin of advertisers everywhere. 


Advertisers will be able to use connected TV campaigns to target viewers across YouTube and “most” other connected TV apps. The new development will bring affinity, in-market, and demographic audience segments to connected TVs.

Advertisers will be able to reuse audiences across campaigns. When you build an audience to use in a campaign, Google Ads will save it so you can use it again in a future campaign.

Google Ads is renaming some key terms in your audience report and throughout Google Ads. You may have seen this already in some accounts. Google revealed this via this help documentation in September 2021.

RSAs and the end of ETAs

Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) became the default ad type in 2021. RSAs allow advertisers to input multiple headlines and ad copy variations, and Google Ads uses machine learning to determine which variations to use based on what queries people are searching for. 

An open beta allowed advertisers to see Display ads alongside search and YouTube for the first time in the Google Ads attribution report. Advertisers can see the ads in Top Paths, Model Comparison, Assisted Conversions and Path Metrics reports.

Automated vehicle ads were launched. The new format uses vehicle data feeds in Google Merchant Center to match users’ searches with ads.

Nine new policies were added to the three-strike system to target clickbait, misleading ad design, and more.


Bundled bid strategies have replaced standalone options. The Target CPA (tCPA) and Target ROAS (tROAS) Smart Bidding strategies will be bundled with the Maximize Conversions and Maximize Conversion Value bid strategies, respectively, Google announced Tuesday. Moving forward, Maximize Conversions will have an optional tCPA field, and Maximize Conversion Value will have an optional tROAS field.

Everyone’s favorite campaign type, Performance Max, became available to all advertisers. PMax includes Smart Shopping and Local campaigns, though Google eventually sunsetted Smart Shopping campaigns for good starting in January 2022.

Changes to automated extensions include extensions being shown together, an “Automatically Created Extensions” report, and the ability to add them at ad group, campaign, or account level.

Privacy Concerns Deepen

The depreciation of third-party cookies was supposed to happen in 2022 but was ultimately pushed to 2023. With that, an alternative targeting technology known as Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) was opened for advertiser testing in Q2 2021, with adoption slated for Q4 2022.

The FLEDGE sandbox has been unveiled along with plans to roll out several Privacy Sandbox initiatives on Android, including the Topics API, the FLEDGE API for custom audiences and remarketing, and the Attribution Reporting API. It began testing in March 2022.

Honorable mentions

  • Ads Editor version 2.0 is released
  • Placement reports for Performance Max campaigns
  • Testing favicons in text ads
  • Goodbye to Gmail campaigns
  • A revamped Search360
  • AdWords API sunsetted
  • Three new travel products



Google’s 20th gave rise to an era of predictive marketing, using AI and machine learning to identify intent and predict customer needs, behavior and marketing outcomes.

YouTube gains access to Google data for audience targeting, effectively improving ad targeting and measurement across search and YouTube. 

GA4 was also introduced, giving users expanded predictive insights, deeper integration with Google Ads, cross-device measurement capabilities and more granular data controls. 

Keyword match-type decline

The way we manage search terms has changed. Close variants are no longer what they used to be and marketers are being forced to adapt to machine learning. “Google says its machine learning is now good enough to determine when a query has the same intent as a keyword with a high enough rate of success that advertisers will see an overall performance lift.” Awkward.

Google has loosened the reigns on close variant keywords. Broad match is super broad, exact match is more like phrase match, and phrase match is, well, gone?

Privacy concerns have forced Google to limit Search terms reporting. In a statement from Google, a spokesperson said, “In order to maintain our standards of privacy and strengthen our protections around user data, we have made changes to our Search Terms Report to only include terms that a significant number of users searched for. We’re continuing to invest in new and efficient ways to share insights that enable advertisers to make critical business decisions.”

Automation ramps up

RSAs and the start of the end for Expanded Text Ads began in 2020. The option for text ads was no longer the default option in the Ads dropdown. Advertisers are seeing only Responsive Search Ad (RSA) and Call ad. 

Local Campaigns were introduced and aimed to drive in-store visits. Google automatically optimizes ad delivery across Search, YouTube, Maps and websites and apps in its ad networks.

Smart Campaigns debuted and were designed for small and local businesses that don’t have dedicated marketing staff and may not even have websites.

Smart Campaigns became the default campaign type for new advertisers in Google Ads. The campaigns are almost entirely automated and goals include phone calls, website visits and requests for directions.

Honorable mentions

Other new advancements in Search included:

  • Hotel ads
  • Cross-device reporting
  • Surfaces across Google

2000 launch to 2015

While this is by no means a complete list, here are a few product development highlights from when Google launched the AdWords platform in 2000, all the way up to their 15th birthday.


Google launched its new self-service advertising program called AdWords. The program enabled “any advertiser to purchase individualized and affordable keyword advertising that appears instantly on the search results page.”

The AdWords program replaced Google’s first ad program called Premium Sponsorships.

Check out this article we found from The Search Engine Report in 2000.


In 2006 Google decided to push forward with testing newspaper ads. If you’re curious, you can read the results here.

In the same year, they also began testing in-stream video ads with


Google started promoting audio ads. The landing page it takes you to tells you to call one of Google’s sales offices if you wanted to advertise on the radio.

Pay-per-action ads were launched this year, allowing advertisers to only pay when their preferred action was completed, such as a sale or click.  

Google also began testing its Keyword Tool, showing the number of the previous month’s searches. The tool shows actual numbers in search volume for the previous month for keywords. 

Also happening this year, Google acquired DoubleClick from The New York Times for $3.1 billion.

In July Google announced that those personalized ads you see are influenced by previous searches. In response, Google said “What you’re seeing is that we look at the user’s previous query and see how well it intersects with the current query. If it’s significant, we’ll use it to help targeting on the current query. We simply look at what’s in the referring URL (every time you load a web page, the HTTP header includes your previous URL as the “referrer”).”

Google reaches 1 million advertisers! “An analyst from UBS estimated Google has between 1.3 million and 1.5 million advertisers. According to the analyst, it shows there is still room for a lot more growth in terms of the advertiser base.” 


Google pitched its media buying dashboard to very skeptical agencies.

Google also announced third-party tracking for the content network. Thanks, Google!

This same year, Google also began testing showing product ads in search results.

The Inside AdWords Google Blog announced that all US-based advertisers should now have the TV ads option in their account. In fact, you should see the option after logging in to your AdWords account at the bottom, where it says “Other Campaign Types.”


Google’s newspaper ads initiative shuts down. Google said they are discontinuing this service because “the current Print Ads product is not the right solution.”

Google announced that they’re officially shutting down Google Audio Ads and Google Radio Automation.

The Google Base blog announced the launch of the new Google Merchant Center. The Merchant Center is replacing Google Base for those who submit products to Google. 

Google Blog announced you can now buy YouTube Promoted Video ads directly in the Google AdWords console. Previously, all YouTube Promoted Video ads were managed on YouTube at 

Google has acquired AdMob (, a popular mobile display ad company, for $750 million. This acquisition gives Google access to AdMob’s more than 15,000 mobile Web sites and applications.


Google has announced a new lab-type area called Google Ad Innovations, which is where it’ll “show you some of our latest ideas around advertising technologies and get your feedback.” Think of it as Google Labs for Ads.

Google has enabled access to the AdWords dashboard and other features for smartphone users. It’s configurable and provides on-the-go access to account data and stats. The new mobile interface is currently available for iPhone, Android and Palm/WebOS users. 

Google starts testing a feature with a small number of advertisers in which a phone number can be included within the ad to help them more effectively engage with customers who prefer to connect over the phone.

A new keyword type, broad match modifier, begins testing.

Google Product Listing Ads are offered to all advertisers


Google is now letting AdWords advertisers automatically optimize what ads display most based on conversion rates.

Google will begin charging $1.00 for calls completed using the unique number it provisions, but solely when the call originates from someone using a computer who dials the number themselves from a phone. When the call is from a mobile device, or someone on a PC calls from the computer itself by clicking, the standard click charges apply. Previously, the calls dialed on a phone were free, as they didn’t involve a click, per se.

Google rolls out the ability to target ads to users by interest based on their previous browsing activity, or behavior, to all of its advertisers. 

Cost per lead tests start. Google is testing search and display versions of a cost-per-lead ad format that would allow users to request an advertiser contact them. 

Google is opening wider a beta test of Dynamic Search Ads. This ad type is designed for retailers or other advertisers with a large, often-changing inventory. Google automatically generates ad copy, based on the advertiser’s template. 

Google officially announced it would begin serving AdWords at the bottom of search engine results pages on 


Google Product Search is renamed to Google Shopping and only merchants that paid will be listed. 

Google is testing the effect of adding “Trusted Stores” badges to qualifying advertisers’ search ads, as it considers deploying the badges more widely.

Google introduced the ability to target more than 30,000 ZIP codes in AdWords, giving advertisers the ability to find potential customers in a familiar, granular way. Another new feature, Location Insertion, is aimed at letting advertisers with multiple locations create one ad, and have information dynamically inserted depending on the user’s query or location.

Google released a new report — Auction Insights — that helps marketers understand how their ads stand, compared to others in the same auctions.

Testing begins for a new ad format on its Hotel Finder product that lets marketers bid to appear at the top of search results. Promoted Hotels ads are ranked based on a combination of bid and quality score, and are sold on a CPC basis. 

The remarketing tag gets a makeover.

Google has begun notifying merchants that it won’t allow them to continue listing weapons-related items for sale in Google Shopping. 


Google announced plans to add enhanced campaigns for AdWords to aid with campaign management catered to multiple-device users. The enhanced campaigns aimed to include advanced reports about users. This move was controversial among advertisers.

Ad group-level mobile bid adjustments started to roll out.

The AdWords Keyword Planner finally launches.

Google has announced the official beta for Image Extensions in AdWords. 

Google announced the beta release of Review Extensions which allows advertisers to append a quote of endorsement from a reputable publication in their AdWords ads. 


CNBC reports that Google is now banning porn businesses from utilizing their ad network.

To help retailers maintain consistent visibility in PLAs, Google has launched “automatic item updates” in AdWords.

Google announced it is extending its popular product listing ads (PLAs) to retail and e-commerce sites across the Google Search Network. The ads are served via a new Google product called AdSense for Shopping.

Automated Extensions report starts rolling out.

AdWords 11 is launched. Google released a fully-redesigned version of AdWords Editor that supports several of the bulk editing features that have recently been added to the web interface and introduces new functionality to the desktop tool.


By 2015 Google maintained nearly 64 percent of search share on desktop and almost 90 percent of mobile in the US.

The Google shared library is sunsetted.

Google launches dynamic structured snippets for AdWords. The automated extensions display industry-specific, structured information about products and services on advertisers’ sites.

Google has opened up access to its home services ad program in AdWords Express. The home services ad program launched in beta in the San Francisco area to connect service providers with local residents searching for help. 

Starting in October, Google changed the conversions columns to include only those conversions that are set for optimization: i.e., optimized conversion actions.

Google launched Smart Goals in early December. Smart Goals are designed for advertisers that don’t or can’t have conversion tracking on their sites. It aggregates conversion data from the thousands of sites that opt to share data with Google Analytics and, with machine learning, identifies visits deemed most likely to convert on the advertiser’s site.

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