Ten years ago when I first started managing search campaigns most of my work week was spent creating massive keyword lists and crafting text ads. The work was repetitive and tedious and left disproportionately less time to optimise and focus on strategy. On the upside search managers got most if not all of the digital budget because there was no alternate online channel when it came to delivering the same ROI.
Circa 2018 and things are slightly more different
- AI and machine learning have advanced significantly to automate search.
- Typed keywords are not the lead source of search intent with Gartner predicting that 30% of searches by 2020 will not be screen-based.
- Search is not always the first or the only channel for identifying user intent.
- The digital toolbox has more channels than a decade ago requiring a more orchestrated approach to optimisation, attribution and planning
While the need to expand keyword lists, report results and write relevant ads isn’t going away there are a few other imperatives for search marketers in 2019 based on the developments above.
1. Embrace automation and machine learning
In 2018 Google is pushing search marketers towards using its machine learning capabilities and adopting more automation into their workflow. From campaign set up, ad creation to bidding -manual processes can now be automated and machines can be entrusted to do the heavy lifting at a scale that would drive a human to despair.
(UAC) Universal App campaigns was an early purveyor of machine learning in search, but we’ve now seen a wider roll-out of similar capability in Smart Campaigns for Search and Display. The game changer this year is Responsive Search Ads (beta) in which you provide up to 15 different headlines and four different description lines, and let Google Ads assemble and test multiple combinations for most relevancy.
The upside for search marketers is the time saved should allow them to pivot to upstream, strategic and longer horizon focused tasks. I’d like to see PPC marketers focus on creative tasks such as writing more ad variations, rigorously testing and delivering insights to optimise other channels.
2. Go beyond keywords with audience targeting
For years we have tried to match ads to keywords making assumptions about where a user is in their purchase journey. But journeys are no longer linear, changes to (Exact) keyword match types have reduced control and typed search keywords are no longer the dominant starting point of discovery. The success of programmatic display using audience data and a growing appetite among marketers for data-driven marketing has also triggered a drive to apply data and audience targeting in search.
There are two sources of audience signals: those available directly through the search engines or offline data sets that can be imported through integrations to enhance search campaigns. In Google Ads I recommend Rich List in Search Ads, In-Market audiences, Custom Match and Life Event targeting as strong audience tactical plays. Don’t forget Bing which flexed its network connections this year and announced MicrosoftAudience Ads (formerly Bing Intent Ads),and LinkedIn Profile targeting.
Many enterprise organisations who have invested in marketing cloud software (Salesforce, Adobe etc.) already have custom segments built within their DMP’s. These search marketers should be making full value of their end to end stack eg. integrating Adobe Audience Manager and Analytics segments into the Advertising Cloud to maximise efficiency.
In 2019 it won’t be a choice between audience or keyword but which ppc experts can layer one over the other and use differential bidding levers by segment and customer journey mapping to optimise.
3. Not just Text Ads: Visual, Voice, Shopping, Answers
It is inevitable that the search engines will look for new ways and areas to commercialise beyond the main top and bottom text ad placements. I expect we’ll see some (or more) advertising in Images, Voice, Maps and Answer Boxes in the future. For now search marketers should focus on organic visibility, getting an early start by analysing web analytics and search query data, and focusing on creating relevant landing page experiences.
In 2019 we should also stop thinking of search as only a search engine website. Earlier this year Pinterest reported more than 600 million visual searches per month across its properties while Amazons digital advertising business has grown triple digits for three quarters. You get the drift – search investment is not just Google and Bing.
Your search team or agency should be upskilling in these alternate channels and carving aside budget while planning for 2019. Obviously these channels are competition to the traditional search engines so expect them to fight back by enhancing their own capabilities in these areas.
4. Integrate across the Marketing function
Finally I’d urge search marketers to take a more omni-channel approach and get involved with or contribute to other marketing priorities such as attribution, business analytics, data segmentation and personalisation. The natural curiosity of search marketers, their aptitude for numbers and comfort with large volumes of data make them valuable contributors in these areas.
We have seen Google bring together its technologies under a unified Google Marketing branding and interface making workflow and insight sharing easier. Search marketers must take their cue and break down working silos, discontinue using incompatible campaign technology and not look at the customer journey through a single channel lens.
These are just four imperatives that come to mind ahead of the New Year. If you’d like to discuss how these factors can contribute to your business please reach out for a discussion or consultation. Or if you’ve got other trends you’d like to share please drop me a note or comment.