The future for paid search marketers in 2019

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. 


How do brands navigate the complex video landscape

According to the latest IAB PWC Expenditure report video expenditure has grown by 45% year on year. This is a sizable pie, which as per the PWC Entertainment and Media Outlook is estimated to grow at a 23.8% CAGR between 2018 and 2022. This increase has partly been due to the shift in brand dollars out of Television to online video. Internet Advertising (1)Unsurprisingly in the last three years every network has invested more dollars into creating more inventory by commissioning original content or attracting external creators. Last week Facebook Watch entered this increasingly crowded video marketplace with more entrants such as CBS and Disney expected to launch their offerings soon. But these platforms have some serious catching up to do with Netflix already approaching 10mn subscribers this month, and continuing to invest heavily in new shows.

Australian video landscape

There has been a lot of new research and rhetoric from all players this year using planks like ‘premium’ and ‘brand-safe’ to try to position themselves over other competitors. I think we need to look at it from the consumer’s point of view rather than the aperture of individual platforms. In the matrix below I have attempted to create a rudimentary overview of the screen content landscape.

The two upper quadrants have platforms with longer studio scripted content while the lower quadrants have shorter, influencer or user-generated content. The quadrants on the right allow users more choice and convenience and they are more active when seeking or consuming specific content. On the left users are passive or just grazing through feeds.Video Landscape (1)

In the top left is TV which is the still the leading screen with a higher time spent per month compared to video on other devices. TV, Cinema and Digital OOH in combination are great for reach building in the awareness stage of customer journeys. Linear TV’s sibling BVOD just released a fact pack of stats about its outstanding growth on the back of of a rise in connected TV viewing in H2 2018. Those who watch are highly invested in this content (and the experience is passive) so with most content being watched to completion it provides advertisers the ideal environment for 30 second brand TVC’s in pre or mid-content breaks. However I see BVOD as just complimentary to Linear TV as the content is similar and the choice is limited to a few genres. If you don’t enjoy dating, food shows and renovating or not all of them then you will seek content from other sources.

This is where SVOD (Netflix, Stan) and TVOD (NBA Pass, Optus Sports, YouTube Premium etc.) services in the top right quadrant offer more choice and control for those who aren’t satisfied by content from our major broadcasters. The most talked about shows like Stranger Things or Making a Murderer are now the ones created by Netflix and Amazon. Also mainstream FTA doesn’t cater enough to our multi-cultural audiences who often subscribe to IPTV services or use media set-up boxes to access content more suited to their cultural tastes. In other countries with large overseas born or multi-lingual populations cable television caters to this need by combining large bouquets of channels at a low enough entry price. This quadrant may not offer advertising opportunities but will continue to pull viewing minutes away from other video platforms.

Netflix Amazon Content Investment

In the bottom left quadrant the first cluster is a group of platforms trying to create video hubs with the hope that they can create sticky experiences and keep users coming back. The goal is to attract TV dollars, but as always the success of the content will prove the difference. YouTube has a head start and considerable success as it has courted ‘creators’ for many years. Advertisers have been able to use creators to endorse their products, and also buy into the Google Preferred advertising line-ups using TV metrics although brand-safety concerns remain. It remains to be seen if Snap, Instagram and Facebook can attract publishers and creators, and create enough original content to monetize against. Also can they differentiate based on the social viewing experience as Facebook has announced.

Separate to these hubs is the video content we are already used to seeing in social feeds of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. The challenge here is that users generally scroll quickly through feeds so the creative needs to be tailored to each platform to get users to pause and view their ads. What works on Facebook news feed may not work on Instagram or Instagram Stories, and brands are at the mercy of ever changing algorithms.

In the last quadrant is YouTube the big daddy of online video. This is where most of us spend our time ‘discovering’ and are in active viewing mode. There are over 400 hours of video uploaded daily, and ‘how-to’ searches are growing 70% on YouTube making it the second largest search engine. These platforms are democratized allowing any user to upload content, which creates scale but also brand safety issues. Amazons Twitch is fairly new to Australian advertisers but offers access to a massive young male audience and also e-sports fanatics.

What does this mean for brands and consumers

Consumers have never had it so good, as they have multiple ways to access and enjoy their favourite content. I don’t think consumers will choose one over the other but we will use platforms as per our needs or simply multi-screen.

For brands the complex landscape will need them to use more sophisticated screen planning tools to ensure optimal reach. Not all platforms will be needed by all brands as each brand will have a different communication objective and customer journey.

However one cannot ignore new platforms if they prove popular so expect more brands to have an always-on video approach and more test and learn activity in the coming year. Creative partners will be expected to have the expertise to plan and deliver video assets across all these multiple platforms and devices.

Finally while everyone is shouting reach numbers the real battle should be for attention and impact on sales as the strength of video is as an impactful story-telling format. Unfortunately these are tougher metrics to measure than click-through rates and completion rates.

Can Facebook Watch make TV social again

This week Facebook Watch the on-demand video service was launched into the increasingly crowded Australian video marketplace. The service was first launched a year ago exclusively in the U.S. Facebook has added discovery and participatory viewing (like Watch Party) features to the service over the course of the last year. Along with the international roll-out more publishers can now use ‘Ad-breaks’, which allows content creators to run pre, mid-roll or image overlay advertising on their content.

My first thought was to figure out where Facebook Watch fits into the video landscape. I recently wrote a piece about this, and used the matrix below to plot the current players.

Video Landscape (1)I’ve put Facebook Watch in the bottom left quadrant in a cluster of a group of platforms trying to create video hubs with the hope that they can create sticky experiences and keep users coming back. Until there is a vast content library, and the social features take off with audiences its a middling offering. If the goal is to attract TV dollars, Facebook watch will need to add more titles and also shows relevant to Australian audiences. The fascinating graphic from Statista below shows how the likes of Netflix and Amazon are way ahead of Facebook in terms of spend on content.


The initial videos added to my Watch playlist were mostly those that my friends had liked or from pages I was following. I have found it useful to watch short clips of stand-up comedians, US talk shows, sports highlights rather than go to YouTube and search for these. But I had the same affection for Instagram TV for a week before I abandoned it and surrendered to Netflix 100%.

Facebook and social viewing

Facebook has gone on a buying spree picking up lucrative sports rights and commissioning shows, and if its intended watch and connect behavior works it would set it apart from other streaming services. This would take it to the right of the matrix, and make for a more active user experience. A couple of years ago Periscope was used in this manner by fans watching live steams of sporting events like boxing and UFC.

This social viewing has been attempted before by Netflix and YouTube but didn’t really catch on. At the last election Facebook live-streamed the third election debate on the News Limited page to luke warm results. Perhaps a more popular and engaging topic like a reality show launch episode or a one-off game show might elicit more social and live engagement. However Facebook is already a social network with proven engagement and community building capability. With the right content it has a good shot at making it work.

The other feature Watch Party (enabled within Groups) could be another secret weapon as the people we want to discuss our favorite show moments with are often are close friends who are already connected on Facebook. The caveat is that only videos that are already on Facebook can be shared, which means first getting creators to put their content on the platform.

Facebook Watch Party

I’m surprised that there have been no partnerships have been done with reality shows like The Block and The Bachelor to encourage Watch Parties by Facebook Groups comprising fans following these shows using highlight clips hosted on their Facebook Pages.

The skinny is that until social viewing can be proven or there is original programming relevant to Australian viewers we’ll have to mostly settle for watch lists from brand pages we already follow. Until then this is not a game-changer by any means except a new placement for brands to trial their existing TVC’s on.