Paid search predictions for 2017
Branded3's Melanie Hyde pinpoints the developments set to impact the paid search landscape in 2017 and explains how the industry should adjust its strategies accordingly.
The start of a new year is always a great time to take stock of the exciting stuff that’s happened over the past 12 months.
In the world of PPC, that’s meant Google dropping the right hand-side ads, onscreen ad space doubling and new extensions being rolled out at an ever faster pace, to name just a few.
2016 also saw paid search become an increasingly vital part of the digital marketing mix. No longer is it simply a box-ticking exercise; it’s now an integral part of any ROI-focused business plan.
This year looks set to be another eventful one for developments in search. Switched-on marketers and agencies are always looking for a way to keep ahead of the curve, and 2017 will provide plenty of opportunities for those agile enough to embrace them.
Here are the key things on my radar for this year and some thoughts on how we as an industry may need to adapt to capitalise on them.
Big data isn’t new – detailed tracking has led to a huge amount of data being put at the advertisers’ disposal and this year will see that trend continue – but we need a new approach in how we use this data to inform our paid campaigns.
We already have tools like RLSA, Google customer match and basic demographic targeting in search, but this year we’ll see many more advanced ways to target customers, based on previous browsing history, journeys onsite and audience profiling.
The more advanced advertiser will be very familiar with the robust targeting methods available in display and social sites like Facebook – it’s about time paid search caught up and started to think less about the keyword, and more about targeting on audience level.
Whilst we wait for those features to develop, we need to embrace a deeper understanding of data analysis applied to customer behaviours – who they are and why they’re buying.
In basic terms; are we speaking to customers in the right way and giving our searchers what they want to see when they click?
Getting this right is critical to PPC performance and delivering efficiency. If we don’t understand our existing customers and how to engage new ones, we’re destined to tread water, until we’re left behind by the brands who do.
Additionally, in the not-too-distant future we’ll see PPC ads which are customised to a searcher's characteristics and profile, not just demographics like age, gender and parental status.
Mobile and voice
2017 will be an exciting year for mobile, especially with the launch of local ads in maps, promoted pins and an increase in searches happening through voice commands.
The key driver of mobile success this year will be to make the most of local traffic, by ensuring your campaigns are equally broken out by local store or physical location. Always serve a specific ad to your searchers’ location, if you own a physical store/shop front.
The same goes for promoted pins, once it’s rolled out of BETA. Get ahead by testing and trailing new products as soon as they release.
One commonly quoted ComScore statistic is that by 2020 an estimated 50% of all searches will be by voice. Regardless of whether this turns out to be true, voice search is definitely becoming far more commonplace.
With integrated assistants like Siri and Cortana rapidly increasing their understanding of request context, advertisers need to also feed questioning search phrases and context into our targeting, answering the searcher's questions directly within the SERP, if we can.
As a result of voice search, we’ll see longer-tailed terms on mobile, so ask yourself about the worth of investing in all parts of the funnel and not just the bottom.
Covering searchers’ demands at the research/questioning stage builds trust and you’ll reap the rewards later on.
We now have, as standard, doubled the onscreen real estate for our messaging, with much more emphasis on paid ads than ever before.
The usual suspects
This year will continue to showcase new products from the usual suspects, like image sitelinks, new extensions and possibly new audience-targeting options.
With all these extra features that we can ‘bolt on’ to our ads, the search result page is going to start to look very busy with competitors fighting for share of voice.
The key for me here is use these new features, but really target and understand what messaging and which features will work best to help you achieve your goals.
Try not to just fill the space for the sake of it, but actually think about whether you are being relevant enough to the searcher.
Test continually too. Don’t assume that anything in its current state is the best version that it could be. If you’re using a testing matrix for your ads, create new sitelinks, callouts and snippets and creatively test everything! There are lots of third-party tools out there to help bulk testing of ads if the task is daunting.
My final thought for 2017 is on Google’s announcement of its intention to share customer data between its own channels – i.e YouTube targeting video ads based on a user's search data.
Channel integration as a whole will need to be a key focus for marketing teams, not just with the obvious paid channels, like social and display, but also with SEO and CRO. The learnings generated from PPC can help with optimising a website’s overall performance.
According to a study undertaken by McKinsey, companies which invested in their digital capabilities and had multiple touch points were 2.5 times more likely to result in a conversion or purchase.
As the number of different touch points grows, developing an understanding of attribution is more important than ever – as the potential for opportunity grows, so does the potential for wastage.
2017 is a year ripe with opportunity – from hyper-relevant search results to talking to our AI assistants.
Those who try, test and embrace the challenges of this rapidly changing discipline will quickly find themselves leading the pack and soon looking forward to the evolutions and revolutions 2018 will inevitably bring. All in all, an exciting year ahead!
Melanie Hyde is group head of PPC at Branded3, with numerous years of experience leading some of the UK's largest PPC accounts.