Custom Goals in Google Analytics Save Discovery Campaigns

custom conversions

Effective and relatively simple to orchestrate, advertisers embraced Google’s Discovery campaigns since their introduction in 2018 to drive awareness and scale (up to 3 billion customers across Google feeds) by delivering “highly visual, inspiring personalized ad experiences to people who are ready to discover and engage with your brand.” A brand-awareness staple for many, Google recently began requiring advertisers to optimize Discovery campaigns toward a conversion action. This has caused some anxiety among many of the advertisers who have long used Discovery campaigns for brand awareness as traffic plummeted, but by getting creative with custom conversion events in Google Analytics, brand awareness advertisers can still utilize Discovery Campaigns to great effect. 

Understanding the Change

Discovery campaigns serve ads on premier real estate: Google’s Gmail, YouTube, and Discover platforms. Quietly, without a formal announcement, Google rolled out a change to Discovery campaigns. This removes them from their arsenal of brand awareness advertising options. It also requires advertisers to optimize ads toward a conversion action.

By removing the brand awareness option, the only bidding strategies associated with Discovery campaigns are Max Conversions and Target CPA (tCPA). It eliminates optimization for manual bidding or maximum clicks, favorites among marketers building brand awareness, and custom goals. Google’s update combines direct response conversions with its automated targeting and optimization technologies.

A Back Door to Discovery Campaigns via Google Analytics

While advertisers using Discovery campaigns may feel like they’ve lost a valuable brand-awareness channel, just by adjusting the setup process, Discovery campaigns may actually perform better than in the past.

By using a back door via Google Analytics, advertisers can create custom conversion events that align with their campaigns. Then import those into Google Ads Manager as custom goals where they’ll be selectable as conversion events for Discovery Ads. From there, the process for Discovery campaigns remains the same. Here is an example:

Company A hopes to drive brand awareness ahead of an in-person event

  1. In Google Analytics, create a conversion action for a typical brand awareness KPI such as time on site.
  2. Import this conversion action to Google Ads Manager as a secondary campaign goal.
  3. Assign this campaign goal to the Discovery campaigns associated with the event to have Google’s algorithm optimize to this secondary campaign goal.
  4. Refine audience targeting based on desired parameters such as location.
  5. Further refine targeting with custom audiences based on top-performing keyword searches and in-market affinity audiences.
  6. Be patient: for branding, Discovery campaigns need more ramp-up time than they did previously; it will likely be 3-4 days before the ads garner consistent impressions.

Utilizing this back-door approach to establish conversion actions enables advertisers who utilized Discovery Campaigns effectively in the past. It allows them to continue that momentum by utilizing conversion data from previous campaigns. This optimizes campaigns and reduces ramp-up time. 

Get Creative with Conversion Events

By using Google Analytics, advertisers have a wide array of options for qualifying prospects by tying conversion events to KPIs aligned with their business. Here are a few easy, outside-the-box conversion actions to separate the wheat from the chaff:

  1. Use page visits, pages per session, or time duration tied to business goals: For lead generation and event-marketing campaigns, time spent on the page reviewing the content or reviewing multiple pages of content may reflect user engagement and signal a high-quality prospect. For retailers, maybe consumers visited a certain product page or reviewed additional information about the product, warranty or return policy. Those page visits could be used as a determinant of engagement. 
  2. Newsletter sign-ups, any button clicks for social media, or video views on the site: These actions indicate user engagement and activity on a website, thus indicating interest in the content provided. These upper- and mid-funnel actions can be used for retargeting and nudging consumers further down the path to purchase.

Premium Real Estate; Premium Results

YouTube is the second biggest search engine behind Google. This makes it premium real estate for Discovery campaigns as they reach a more focused audience. It is different than typical display ads which can be very broad. Coupled with YouTube visitors already in a content-consuming mindset, advertisers have an excellent recipe for driving results. By creating brand-awareness conversion events in Google Analytics and pairing them with Discovery campaigns’ own, advertisers can reap the benefits of brand awareness, direct response conversions, and custom goals. Taking this approach has proven quite effective, even outperforming Discovery campaigns before the change from Google.

Final Thoughts

This update to Discovery campaigns mirrors the continual changes to social ads over the last few years. This is as they evolved from brand awareness to direct response. As publishers continue to refine their ad offerings and improve their optimization technology, this type of change is likely to become more commonplace. While these changes often frustrate advertisers accustomed to a particular approach, those who embrace the change and seek creative ways to work within the new constraints are best positioned for continued success.

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