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Over the past two weeks, several of the largest online ad platforms have taken swift steps to address problems with advertisers attempting to profit by stoking fears during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, and YouTube have all responded in unique ways to stop the flow of misinformation, prevent profiteering, and provide new resources to protect public health.

Google Ads Blocks Advertisers Capitalizing on Crisis

This week, Google Ads updated its Inappropriate Content policy to specifically disallow content which:

“…potentially capitalizes on or lacks reasonable sensitivity towards a natural disaster, conflict, death, public health emergency, or other tragic event.”

The new regulation specifically cites price gouging, selling essential supplies that are in high demand but scarcely available, or ads that use sensitive keywords to manipulate their click-through rate.

For more details about which strategies to avoid and what keywords to be careful about using during this time, check out the full help page Google Ads has created for advertisers.

Google and Bing Block COVID-related Ads

Initially, Google had introduced a policy which entirely disallowed advertising products or services related to coronavirus across the entire platform. However, recent reports suggest they have internally revised this policy to make an exception for trusted organizations like hospitals, medical providers, or other major organizations attempting to provide reliable information to the public.

The search engine is also blocking the sale of face masks on its ad platform, following similar policies from Facebook.

Bing has taken similar steps by blocking all ads related to COVID-19, except those coming from trusted sources.

As a Microsoft spokesperson explained:

“Microsoft Advertising has taken precautionary measures to block ads for delivery related directly to COVID-19 under the Microsoft Advertising Sensitive advertising policy. This precaution also applies to some COVID-19 related medical supplies. We will only allow Public Service Announcements from trusted sources, such as official Govt. agencies, to promote COVID-19 content.”

Facebook and Instagram Block COVID-19 Ads, Create New Resources

Since March, both Facebook Ads and Instagram have been blocking the sale of face masks on their platforms. The policy has since been expanded to include hand sanitizer, surface disinfecting wipes, and COVID-19 testing for children.

At the same time, Facebook has created several new resources for both businesses and the general public, many of which can be found in the new “Marketing for Uncertain Times” deck which contains industry playbooks and general advice for staying informed.

Twitter Gives Advertisers Leeway

After originally banning any and all ads which mentioned “coronavirus” or “COVID-19”, Twitter has revised its ad policies to allow some advertisers to mention the virus.

As the company explains:

“In response to the shifting advertising landscape, and in order to support helpful causes during this time, we’re now allowing managed clients and partners to advertise content containing implicit or explicit reference to COVID-19 in certain use cases, with restrictions.”

The specific cases Twitter will be allowing are:

  • Adjustments to business practices and/or models in response to COVID-19
  • Support for customers and employees related to COVID-19

Despite this, Twitter says it will continue to block ads which include:

  • Distasteful references to the virus
  • Content that may be sensational or likely to incite a panic
  • Inflated prices or products related to the virus
  • Ads for face masks, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, supposed vaccines, or treatments.

TikTok and Pinterest Partner With WHO and Red Cross

TikTok and Pinterest have taken similar steps as others by blocking ads which “reference coronavirus, including when promoting products or services, to create a sense of fear, or to cause widespread offense”, as a TikTok spokesperson said.

In addition, these platforms have also been working with major health organizations around the globe to help spread relevant information and prevent misinformation.

Pinterest has been redirecting any searches on the platform to official content provided by the WHO to prevent the chance of delivering custom results which could be difficult to monitor for disinformation.

TikTok has taken similar steps by donating in-feed ad space to notable organizations including the WHO and Red Cross to ensure users have access to helpful information.

YouTube Blocks COVID-19 Ads Except From Trusted Sources

YouTube’s ad policies have largely been in-step with Google’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initially, the platform would not allow any form of monetization on content relating to the coronavirus, citing “sensitive topic guidelines.”

Since then, the company has taken some steps to loosen that policy by allowing news organizations and reputable creators to produce videos about the issue in a sustainable way.

In a letter to the community, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki explained:

“In the days ahead, we will enable ads for content discussing the coronavirus on a limited number of channels, including creators who accurately self-certify and a range of news partners. We’re preparing our policies and enforcement processes to expand monetization to more creators and news organizations in the coming weeks.”

Despite this allowance, the company stresses it will continue to remove content that violates its policies or spreads misinformation.

Microsoft is expanding its responsive search ads beta to all advertisers.

Responsive search ads are an increasingly popular way to automatically tailor your ads for the specific needs of individual customers. 

Essentially, the advertiser can create a number of combinations for both headlines and descriptions within a single campaign, which the ad platform then selects based on a specific search query. 

In the case of Microsoft’s responsive search ads, advertisers can provide up to 15 headlines and 4 descriptions. When shown, the ads can display up to 3 titles and 2 descriptions. 

After the campaign has run for long enough to gather data, Microsoft will also select the top-performing ad combinations in a report for advertisers, while underperforming combinations will be shown less often or not at all. 

The company says responsive search ads can benefit brands in a number of ways, including:

  • Reducing bulky operations and saving time
  • Serving the right message to the right user at the right time
  • Improving overall ad performance

To ensure the best performance using responsive search ads, Microsoft recommends following these tips:

  • Create responsive search ads in the same campaigns with your current expanded text ads.
  • Provide at least 8-10 unique headlines and at least 2 distinct descriptions with a clear call-to-action message.
  • Review performance regularly.
  • Pinning a headline or description will ensure it’s displayed in the desired position.

All you have to do to join the beta is fill out a short form available here.

Bing is changing up how ads appear in its search engine by increasing the number of ads present at the bottom of the page and removing text ads from the sidebar of search results for US users.

Specifically, Bing is increasing from 3 bottom-of-the-page ads to 4 ads and removing sidebar text ads in the United States. Product ads, on the other hand, will remain within the sidebar.

This change also means that Bing will no longer be allowing advertisers from the US to run sidebar text ads at all.

According to the announcement, Bing was motivated to remove sidebar text ads because bottom-of-the-page ads often include richer ad formats that provide more in-depth information that possible in the sidebar.

While these changes are currently limited to the United States and Bing Ads will continue offering sidebar text ads in other countries, the company says it will be considering removing the ad type in other counties in the future.

As the announcement says, “as part of the constant evolution of the Bing search engine results page (SERP) to provide more value for our users and our advertisers we are regularly evaluating performance and quality of our ads, including ad position on the SERPs.”

Based on their data, Bing says removing the sidebar text ads increases the overall clicks for advertisers, especially those running Mainline Text Ads and Product Ads.

Analytics is an essential way to measure the effectiveness of your ads, but traditionally your results are kept in isolation. The only thing you have to compare against is past results.

Bing is changing that, with a new way to compare the results of your ad campaigns against how your competitors are performing.

These new competitive metrics, also known as “share of voice” metrics, have been added to Bing’s in-line performance views, with details on your ads and similar campaigns in your industry. You still can’t hand-pick your local competitors and spy on their campaigns, but the new metrics will give you a better view of how you are doing within your market.

To get started, just log into your Bing Ads account and select either Accounts Summary, Campaigns, Ad Groups, or Keywords. Once you’re on any of these pages, click the Columns button. This will allow you to add any metrics from the Competitive (Share of Voice) section. Once you’ve applied your changes, these new metrics will appear in your reports.

Bing says the metrics are compatible with all other reporting features offered by the platform.

The announcement says this latest update is just “one of many” enhancements to Bing analytics the company will be releasing this year, though they are keeping those upcoming updates a secret for now.

Bing is giving advertisers until July 31st of this year to adjust to the new extended text ads format. After that, they will have to make the switch because Bing will stop supporting the creation and editing of the popular standard text ad format.

The company is giving some leeway to those who still prefer standard text ads, saying “all your existing standard text ads will continue to serve alongside expanded text ads for the foreseeable future.” Eventually Bing will stop supporting and serving standard text ads entirely, but they will give advertisers a warning when they plan to finally shut it down entirely.

To prepare for the change, Bing listed several best practices and tips to make the most of expanded text ads (EXTAs):

Create EXTAs within existing campaigns and ad groups along current STAs

  • Use Standard Text Ads as a baseline to measure how well Expanded Text Ads are performing
  • Create a 1:1 ratio of EXTA to STA ads in each ad group to maximize EXTA impressions
    • Helps avoid impression and click loss while testing EXTAs
    • Assures that EXTAs inherit all ad extensions and other set ups from the existing STAs
  • Once you are confident in the Expanded Text Ads performance, customers can move to 100% adoption, and delete their STAs

Take full advantage of the additional character limits

  • Use your best performing STA copy as a starting point when creating EXTAs
  • Experiment with messaging (try different length combinations)
  • Remember that headlines are important. Longer headlines help increase the visual space of text ads and help communicate additional information to searchers
  • Think about using content such as domain, display, description, query in ad title 2

It’s no secret that there are lots of bad people trying to operate scams online. Bing’s latest report on bad ads makes that crystal clear, as the search engine has removed over 130 million ads and banned 175,000 advertisers in just the last year.

Somewhat surprisingly, that number is actually 120 million fewer ads than in 2015. In comparison, both those ads combined are still dwarfed by Google’s 1.7 billion blocked ads in 2016.

As the Bing Ads’ Ad Quality in Review 2016 report explains, the ads were rejected for “direct policy compliance issues or intention to mislead users.” It continues:

“We introduced new policy around software download advertising that reduced unwanted and potentially malicious ads for many top free software programs. We ramped up systems that detect browser hijacking ads, phishing attempts, scareware ads, ads targeting the most common sites on the internet, and ads with multimedia content. We also enforced policies directed towards gender determination ads to comply with country specific regulations.”

The report specifically highlights six different types of bad ads it removed in 2016:

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  • Phishing: More than 5,000 advertisers and 7,000 sites were blocked for phishing.
  • Counterfeit: More than 1 million ads were blocked for selling counterfeit goods.
  • Tech Support Scams: More than 17 million ads were blocked for third-party tech support scams.
  • Download: More than 4 million ads were rejected for violating download-related guidelines.
  • Scareware: More than 300 advertisers were blocked for ads that highjack the browser or scare users that their PC is infected.
  • Misleading Ads: 7 million ads were blocked for misleading content. This is a huge drop compared to 2015, when Bing rejected 30 million ads.

Bing emphasized the scale of their efforts with a final comparison, saying “if one person took a minute to find and take down a bad ad or actor, it would take them nearly 500 years to remove the same number of bad ads or actors found by our automated methods in 2016.”

bingmobileads

While Google largely pretends Bing Ads doesn’t exist, Bing has been working hard to make it easier for advertisers to manage campaigns for both services from one place.

This started by offering the ability to import Google AdWords campaigns directly to Bing Ads, but now the company is expanding this with the ability to automatically sync your campaigns across platforms.

With this new feature, advertisers no longer have to make manual updates to their Bing Ads campaigns if they decide to tweak things on AdWords. Instead, when anything like ad copy, campaign budgets, and ad extensions is updated in AdWords, the changes will automatically be applied to a synced Bing Ads campaign.

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To do this, go through the typical process to import your campaigns into Bing Ads. At the end, you’ll be asked if you would like to import data now, at a later date, or on a recurring basis. Campaigns set to import on a regular basis can be set to update on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

Once you’ve done this, you can also view your import schedule and history, to ensure your campaigns are being properly updated. From here you can also pause or edit scheduled imports.

It sounds like Bing is already at work to expand these features even more, as they say to expect enhanced compatibility with multi-language targeting in the not too distant future.

bingmobileads

Bing is officially expanding their ad format selection to include app install ads in a pilot program open to all US advertisers. These ads are designed specifically to drive users to install apps when searching from their mobile devices.

The new format isn’t exactly revolutionary. Google has offered similar adds which directed searchers to the iOS App Store or Google Play Store for a fairly long time. However, this is the first time these ads have been available for Bing advertisers.

Setting up App Install Ads is easily done when selecting your ad type in your campaign settings screen. Once your campaign is running, Bing will then detect what type of device a searcher is using and show ads with a direct link to installing an app through their device’s app store.

”Using App Install Ads gets app customers to your app store directly, eliminating the extra time, navigation, and clicks they would otherwise need to take from your website.”

App Install Ads do have a few quirks compared to older ad formats. For example, there is no display URL on the ad. Instead, any clicks will take users directly to an app store page. The new ad format is also limited to just iOS and Android apps. There is no indication whether they will eventually support Windows or Windows phone apps in the future.

ad quality lookback

Every year Bing likes to highlight its efforts to keep the web safe with its “Bad Ads Report” and this year shows that the endless war against online scammers and hackers has remained largely consistent recently.

Despite constant efforts to derail the malicious actors on their platform, tech support scams and purposely misleading ads remain the biggest problems on Bing Ads. The company blocked over 15 million ads for running tech support scams alone.

Overall, Bing says it has rejected over 250 million ads in the past year, as well as blocking 50,000 sites, and banning 150,000 ads for breaking their guidelines.

Considering Bing’s trademark usage policies are relatively loose compared to competitors like Google, it comes as a surprise that the company says it dismissed more than 50 million ads in 2015 for trademark infringements.

The rest of the report is less surprising. Phishing attacks remain a relatively minor issue, and pharma and counterfeit goods are still being delisted by the hundreds of thousands.

Find out more from Bing’s ad report here.

Bing Ads is improving its age and gender targeting by collecting more robust demographic data from users to help advertisers better target consumers.

According to the company’s blog, Bing’s global coverage of demographic data has recently doubled, which the company says will ensure its new targeting capabilities will provide “an increase in click-through rate and conversion rate for targetable users, thus potentially increasing the overall return on investment for all your campaigns.”

Advertisers can now utilize Bing’s new increased targeting features by setting targeting rules in “Advanced Targeting” within their Bing Ads dashboard. From there, they can segment audiences by age range, gender, device, and time, which will cause an automatic lift in bids when targeted audiences are searching.

Along with the announcement, Bing Ads released comScore data on its current audience, showing Bing Ads audiences tend to be more female and are most likely within the age range of 35-44.

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