By George Crosby

Google Ads are implementing Parallel Tracking on the 30th October. What follows is a walkthrough of the change and what you'll need to do to enable it.

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As everyone has heard by now, Google Ads are implementing Parallel Tracking, their landing page loading time improvement, for good on the 30th October. While this can only be a positive change in terms of customer journey drop-off it has heavy implications for users of SA360 (Search Ads 360). What follows is a little more about what this change is, how it will benefit your accounts, and the changes you need to make to accommodate it on SA360.

What is Parallel Tracking and How Does It Work?

At the moment in most cases, when a user clicks on an ad and there’s a 3rd party tool like SA360, there’s some sort of redirect happening. This is redirecting you through a click server before the user reaches your intended landing page. Essentially the process is:

Pre-Parallel Tracking Redirects

With these steps happening one after the other, it increases your page loading time and therefore the likelihood that people drop off the user journey.

Parallel Tracking is essentially the solution to this. With Parallel Tracking, the redirects fire simultaneously, rather than one after another. So, the user will be taken directly to the landing page while the tracking happens in the background. The process therefore looks a bit more like this with Parallel Tracking:

Post-Parallel Tracking Redirects

At the moment, this is an opt-in process but on 30th October Google is switching it over, at which point Parallel Tracking becomes mandatory for all Google Ads accounts.

Bonus Benefit: Accelerated Mobile Pages

In addition to the benefit of faster loading times, there’s also a benefit regarding AMPs (Accelerated Mobile Pages). This is a project aiming to make the mobile web much faster to improve user experience. One technology this uses is the AMP cache which can only be reached if a user is not redirected on their way to the website. With the old way of doing things this is therefore inaccessible, but if we use Parallel Tracking, the cache can be accessed, and we decrease mobile load time even further.

So How Do I Enable Parallel Tracking on SA360?

This sounds all well and good for user experience, but it has a fairly sizeable impact on SA360 and means that you need to make some changes. There are 4 general steps to this:

  1. Use the migration tool
  2. Check compatibility in the UI
  3. Make manual changes to ensure compatibility
  4. Enable Parallel Tracking

Step 1: Use the Migration Tool

In the transition to Parallel Tracking, there are essentially two buckets of changes to make. Bucket 1 can be done using the interface migration tool in SA360, while Bucket 2 must be done manually.

Necessary Search Ads 360 changes

The first step to enabling Parallel Tracking is to use the interface migration tool to take care of Bucket 1, which has been made available across all SA360 advertisers. This will automatically convert those four features into a suitable format. Cross-channel remarketing, Conversion APIs and GA linking will be taken care of by turning on auto-tagging and including other parameters in the final URL Suffix (a new field created for this purpose) in Google Ads. SA360 macros are a little different, but the migration tool still takes care of these as below:

Search Ads 360 macros

The macro migration changes the macros in URL templates to custom parameters. This will be automatically done using the migration tool, but it’s worth sense checking afterwards. Once these have been translated they’ll still be in your URL template, where you’ll have to establish what is required here and what needs to be moved to the final URL suffix, but we’ll cover this later on. It’s worth bearing in mind though that there are a few unsupported macros including: [*Part_Site*], [*AffiliateID*], [*Part_Comp*], [*KeywordIDNL*] and [*GCLSRC*]. 

Search Ads 360 migration tool

To make these migrations, all you need to do is tick the top two tick boxes and hit save at the bottom. This process can take a few hours with very large accounts, so to check on the progress of this there are two columns you can add at Engine Account level called ‘Migrate API, GA, and remarketing’ & ‘Migrate macros to custom parameters’. Once these say ‘Completed’ then you know the process is complete.

Step 2: Check Compatibility in the UI

The next step to take is to check your compatibility. This can be done in the same place as you used the migration tool, using the button below:

Search Ads 360 compatibility checker

Simply hit the ‘View Compatibility Issues’ button to see what flags you’ve got. If you’ve still got SA360 macros coming up or GA/Conversion API/Cross-Channel Remarketing, then you haven’t migrated them yet using the tool. Alternatively, the checker may not have updated, as this takes a full 24 hours to do so. Anything left will be a manual change.

Step 3: Make Manual Changes to Ensure Compatibility

After checking your compatibility, you’ll need to action any changes to the flagged items. These could include anything in aforementioned Bucket 2 if your account has those features enabled. Below is how to migrate them:

Active Landing Page Tests

To migrate these, all you need to do is stop them.

Campaign Manager Macros    

Again, a simple one to deal with, just remove these.

SA360 URL Parameters

These were actually deprecated earlier this year, so there really shouldn’t be any useful instances of these. If you do see this compatibility issue and the parameters are still of use, then you need to add them manually to either the final URL or URL suffix.

Natural Search

This issue relates to the exclusion parameter that natural search relies on to distinguish paid search from natural search clicks. In many instances this exclusion parameter is the gclid – in which case no further action is needed due to auto-tagging being enabled automatically earlier on in the process. If it isn’t the gclid, whatever the exclusion parameter is needs to be added to the final URL suffix before enabling Parallel Tracking, otherwise paid search conversions will be attributed to organic.

Tracking Templates  

This is probably the most complicated part of the manual process and will be a bit different in each use case. Firstly, you need to make sure everything starts with HTTPS, then you need to make sure that you’re using all the correct URL fields. Advertisers need to distinguish between a few types of parameters to establish where they need to be placed.

Search Ads 360 URL template changes

What this table illustrates is that any type of 3rd party redirect needs to remain in the URL template, just making sure, as above, that it’s HTTPS. If this involves a 3rd party that isn’t Google, it’s wise to check in with that party to see if any further accommodations need to be made.

Any other parameters should be removed from the URL template and placed in the final URL suffix. This could also include the parameters that you translated from macros earlier in the process.

After these changes have been made, it’s then worth waiting another 24 hours to see if the compatibility checker shows clear. If not then it’s likely to be old items that are causing the error, so you’ll also need to check paused and removed activity wherever you can apply a URL template. This includes ad extension and product group level, which are often neglected.

However, if the checker is clear, then you’re on to the last step!

Step 4: Enable Parallel Tracking

This is the final step in the process and can be done once more at the engine account level, underneath the compatibility checker:

Enable parallel tracking in SA360

All that’s required here is to tick the last box and hit save at the bottom.

Once you’ve done this, it’s worth making some final checks. These are:

  • Add the ‘Parallel Tracking’ column in at Engine Account level and make sure this reads ‘True’
  • Take a look for any ad or extension disapprovals
  • Check for sync errors with SA360 (after your next sync)
  • Try and find an ad on the SERP and click through, you want to make sure the gclid appears in the URL

If all of these are checked, then that’s it, Parallel Tracking has been completed and you can sit back and relax up to the 30th October!