As 2017 winds to a close, here’s a look back at the seven biggest trends in PPC – and what lies ahead in paid search in 2018:
1. AI and Machine Learning
Search Engine Land (SEL) went as far as calling 2017 both the “year of the machine” and the “year of AI in search” because in part search engines are increasingly integrating machine learning into their products, such as ad rank thresholds, smart display campaigns and data-driven attribution, as well as automated bidding strategies and dynamic search ads.
In Search Engine Journal (SEJ), Purna Virji, senior manager of global engagement at Microsoft, agreed AI will continue to impact search marketing in 2018, enabling marketers to more effectively target and engage their audiences. This is in part because AI helps ensure results are more accurate and tailored to individual consumers and it yields better analytics.
2. Better Targeting
SEL noted audience targeting options expanded throughout 2017, such as Bing Ads (and Google) launching in-market, custom, custom intent and similar audiences. Google also expanded Customer Match – the AdWords feature that lets users show ads to their customers based on the data about those customers that it shares with Google – to include retargeting lists based on customer phone numbers and addresses.
“The popularity of Facebook’s audience-focused, people-based marketing approach largely precipitated this shift over the years as Google has loosened the reigns on its user data and shifted to signed-in data for audience development and targeting,” SEL said.
Virji said she expects to see even better targeting thanks to in-market audiences in particular. These curated lists of consumers are created when predictive intelligence identifies users who have shown purchase intent signals within a particular category. Virji said these lists make it easy to deploy campaigns and allow brands to get in front of new consumers.
In the same post, Ilya Cherepakhin, executive director at Acronym, agreed additional audience targeting capabilities mean marketers can better tailor ads, experiences and monetization strategies.
“Successful marketers will set themselves apart by customizing their efforts at scale and creating dedicated strategies for paid search prospecting together with retargeting,” he said.
In addition to targeting, Aaron Levy, senior team lead of paid search at Elite SEM, noted audiences and automation will work together to dominate PPC in 2018. Thanks to all the data Google in particular has on consumers, it can map audiences into categories and Levy expects to see more robust automation tools added to the mix as a result.
SEL noted Google also launched multi-channel attribution service Google Attribution in beta in May, which aims to give users a bigger picture of how their channels and campaigns — at all stages of the funnel — are contributing to the bottom line and – what’s more – the data can feed back into AdWords or DoubleClick to inform bidding strategies.
“That’s the real motivation here; it’s not going to be the silver-bullet answer to everyone’s attribution challenges,” SEL said. “From a Google campaign perspective, it will provide more cross-channel insights than AdWords or Google Analytics does currently.”
Google also launched tools to better measure online-to-offline conversions, like its in-store sales measurement tool and YouTube location extensions, which help retailers see the correlation between videos and foot traffic. (Bing, too, launched an Offline Conversion Import tool in 2017.)
4. Local Products
Growth in local search is driving the development of ad products aimed at connecting users to local businesses, such as Local Services by Google and a local services directory and lead generation via Google Assistant and Google Home, as well as local inventory ads in local knowledge panels in search results.
Another notable shift is in ad testing as Google has pushed for advertisers to let machines choose the best ads to serve.
SEL noted Google restarted its Ads Added by AdWords pilot in September in which suggestions are generated for text ads in some ad groups to get more advertisers running more ads in their ad groups.
For his part, Cherepakhin said voice changes mobile user behavior, which, not surprisingly, means mobile search strategies will have to evolve further in the coming year.
“True leaders will go beyond executional adaptation, rethinking the entire marketing planning for the voice user,” he said. “It will be necessary to have new marketing objectives, reconsider what products or services are the best fit for voice users and create new mobile experiences for them.”
SEL also noted Amazon loomed large in PPC in 2017, expanding ad offerings on Amazon.com, as well as via discovery and Alexa and this will also undoubtedly remain a space to watch in 2018.