The future of paid search

Alongside an increased focus on automation across all aspects of paid search, Google has recently begun recommending a new method of account structuring, referred to by many as ‘Modern Search’, based on streamlined campaigns and maximizing machine learning.

What is happening?

Since the introduction of Responsive Search Ads (RSAs) in 2018, the majority of Google developments have been centered around automation, especially the adoption of automated bidding strategies and dynamic ad creatives. 

This was further reinforced by the introduction of Optiscore in early 2019, which will mark down an account for not adopting smart bidding, and the recently announced launch of Performance Max campaigns in 2021, which will combine Search, Display, Discover and YouTube into a fully automated, responsive campaign.

Aside from new ad formats, Google are continuing to develop their understanding of the context behind search queries, with adjustments to keyword targeting being made frequently, as shown through the recent match type announcement. Exact match targeting now also includes close match variants, and low volume search queries are being removed from engine reporting entirely.

For example, we no longer need “holidays in Italy” and “Italian holidays” as keywords – one of these variants will now automatically match to the other. When we extrapolate this out to an entire account, we can begin to see the wider impact this will have on our approach to paid search.

How important is this?

As referenced above, we’ve seen developments in automation gradually implemented over the last few years. However, it’s the creation of a new account structure playbook, introduced by Google in late 2020, that has really increased the focus on an automation-first approach to account structuring. 

With less overall control of search visibility, and gains to be made with the adoption of automated strategies (including the likes of Smart Shopping, which take precedence over regular Shopping campaigns), pay-per-click (PPC) marketers need to start thinking about how they’re going to adapt their existing strategies over the coming months.  

Although a fully automated approach will not work for everyone, advertisers will need to find the right balance between utilizing the machine for elements where it outperforms humans (i.e. optimizations) while ensuring they’re guiding it in the right direction. After all, it’s impossible for a machine to predict that you’ll be launching a flash sale in a week, until you give it a steer in the right direction. 

Lastly, as our industry continues to evolve across many aspects, including around privacy regulations and tracking, we’re seeing a greater need for advertisers to have better control of their first-party data. While we expect this to improve various areas of their marketing efforts, being able to feed these more automated platforms with cleaner, richer data sets will be critical in ensuring the algorithms are as effective as possible. It’s worth remembering that mastering things like PPC account structure and automated bidding tools will not provide a long term competitive advantage, but getting the basics wrong will massively hamper performance. 

Automation shouldn’t just be thought of as automated bidding – it’s much broader than that. It’s about trialing different tactics, to allow automation to perform better. 

In summary

We’re undoubtedly reaching a crossroads in paid search marketing, where increased adoption of automation feels like a given. The modern search approach only serves to highlight this further. However, as with all major shifts, we should approach with caution. 

There are many contextual factors that will determine whether this approach will be successful for your account(s), as there are arguably some verticals, such as retail, that are more suited to this. If you aren’t willing, or able, to import your conversion date into the engines, then automation will have no clear basis to work from and may struggle to help you in achieving your targets. In this instance, you should instead focus on identifying elements of automation that you can leverage, such as RSAs. 

Whichever way you choose to approach your future search strategy, one thing is for certain – the search landscape is ever-changing, so advertisers need to be prepared to adapt, or risk being left behind. 

If you’d like to learn more about the future of search, or if you’d like to speak to someone on our PPC team, please get in touch.

by Katie White
23 February 2021

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