This year has seen an unparalleled acceleration in adoption and dissemination of automated, online and data-based technologies, both for consumers and companies alike. Whilst ‘Smart everything’ empowered marketers to set and forget automated bidding strategies for their ads, on the user side, more information than ever was shared with them around the validity of the search stories and images they consume, as well the price fluctuations for the products they purchase.

2020 was a year unlike any other and here’s why…

2020 Recap: what were the major changes in Search?

  • Increased competition in Google Shopping. Free ads were rolled out across the world, likely in response to Amazon’s Prime Days, and in Google’s words “democratized” paid ads.
  • ‘Buy on Google’ was a game changer for the US market. Retailers who opt in no longer need to handle payments on their side and instead, manage the posting and packaging of goods.
  • Google Go for developing countries opened up search around the world. This was an initiative to make online information more accessible, by providing a slimmed down, multi-lingual, speak aloud search experience.
  • An increase in search term report thresholds sent shockwaves around the PPC world. In a single day companies lost visibility of one third of their paid budgets and a fifth of their search terms were now hidden.
  • It wouldn’t be a year in search without an algorithm change. This year saw two major core algorithm updates which meant sites plummeted or ascended in search. There was good news however as Google confirmed companies didn’t need to wait until the next algorithm change to ascend in rankings again.
  • A whole new slew of tools for Smart Bidding. Automation was the watchword for Google Search in 2020. A heavier emphasis on ‘smart’ tools, new functionalities and restrictions on manual management of ads was seen throughout the year.
  • A Digital Services Tax hit major UK companies in September. Companies already impacted by COVID-19 were dealt another blow with the 2% DST tax which Google passed on to its advertisers.
  • The death of AMP. In 2020, websites were no longer expected to have Accelerated Mobile Pages in order to appear in the Top Stories carousel.
  • Growth of Google’s social responsibility. The search giant added new functionalities for small businesses to ask for donations, updated policies around natural disasters and profiteering from them, and provided Anxiety Self-Assessments through search.
  • Fact checks and the fight against fake news was a huge topic. New attributes were added for images in structured data to support assertions made by images.
  • A heavy response from Google during the US elections. To support users during the US elections, there were new tools to tell users where the nearest polling stations were, ads which tried to influence election results were banned and policy changes explicitly mentioned the election.

What will happen in 2021 for Search?

If 2020 was a tumultuous year for search, 2021 is shaping up to be just as exciting. 

Voice Search says it all

Voice Search will continue to play a prominent role in search. It’s quicker, can be done on the move and provides a huge opportunity to get your ads in front of the right users. Traditionally PPC ads have been geared towards typed searches, but as access and adoption of voice technology increases, brand new semantic signals, behavioural patterns and advertising possibilities open up. Optimizing your keywords towards spoken searches, by accommodating longer search phrases and including more questions in your ad groups, is a big recommendation for 2021.


From the opening up of free Google Shopping Ads across the globe to new Smart Shopping functionality and Buy on Google in the US, there’s a huge push to move more of the user journey into the Search Engine Results Pages (without mentioning the SEO impact of new sub-topic results) by the end of 2020. This moves Google more in-line with the likes of Amazon and relegates retailers to pure fulfilment roles. Expect in 2021 the rolling out of Buy on Google in the UK and rest of the world. 

GMBs and the growth of local search

Google My Business profiles have gone from helpful little post-it notes in the side of Google Maps to a major player in SEO ranking factors: accounting for 33% of how local businesses are ranked, according to Whitespark. As local search becomes ever more important as we get into 2021, expect further enhancements and functionalities for GMB but more importantly, for it to be an even more important factor in ranking. Now is the time to optimize your descriptions towards users’ local searches, select the most relevant categories to your market and use GMB to post your most up to date products, events and offers.

The death of manual text ads?

In September we saw Google briefly remove the ability to create text ads, in October the search term report saw higher thresholds (and the loss of up to 30% of search terms reported) and an ever-greater focus on Smart Bidding. Is this the death knell of manual text ad creation in 2021? Watch this space.

 Snippets and the greater importance of PPC

As Google fills more and more of the SERPs with snippets, rich results and graphics, the importance of organic results below diminishes. Sure, some consumers will always prefer an organic result over a paid, what with self-determination and a love of meta-descriptions over ad copy, but with every new snippet type, users have to travel further to click. The only results which appear higher than a snippet are paid ads. Advertisers now have two major focuses: 1) ensure microdata is correctly implemented on their site and hope they appear above competitors in snippets and 2) concentrate even more on PPC, to appear above the organic noise.


There are three things you can guarantee for 2021. Online shopping will continue it’s meteoric rise as consumers integrate it more and more into their normal buying cycle, as smart bidding increases, companies will be at a massive disadvantage if they do not invest in the right competitive intelligence tools to understand the search landscape, and that 2021 is going to be a whopper of a year with core web vitals playing a role in search ranking, Buy on Google rolled out to the rest of the world and more.

Take a look at Adthena’s ultimate catalogue of Google updates for the full list of 2020 changes and make sure you’re prepared for the new year, speak to one of our industry search specialists now to find out the latest tips and tools for your search strategy.