As customers’ media habits change and markets become increasingly more competitive over time, the challenge of making the most out of pay-per-click advertising campaigns continues to be a concern among digital marketers and small business owners.
Knowing which trends to watch out for when it comes to PPC certainly helps. And it is for this reason that PPC marketers are eager to hear from digital marketing thought leaders on where the market is headed each year, among other key insights and observations.
So what are some of the more interesting trends we’ll continue to see with pay-per-click advertising this 2020?
- Automation, A.I., and machine learning
- A more “big-picture” approach to PPC
- Improved audience targeting
- Growing importance of data privacy
- Growing importance of PPC strategy
- Going beyond (just) Google and Facebook
- Focusing on brand affinity and awareness
- Rising CPCs
- Improving CRO: Conversion Rate
- The rise of technical PPC marketer
These were some of the key insights and observations from PPC and digital marketing experts as compiled and laid out in a recent project by Danny Goodwin of Search Engine Journal together with the good people over at Adzooma, Group Twenty Seven, and Wordstream.
Each of these PPC trends is accompanied by quotes from some of the industry’s premier search marketing authorities, pioneers, and trailblazers.
Let’s dive right in and cover each one:
1. Automation, A.I., and Machine Learning
“The key for paid search pros will be figuring out how to use (automation, A.I., and machine learning) as effectively as possible, while also retaining our value by doing things the machines cannot do,”
— Julie Friedman Bacchini, President & Founder, Neptune Moon
Automation and machine learning seems to be taking center stage among PPC experts. Automating certain aspects of PPC advertising is already a big deal. Allowing a machine or an app to take over more menial tasks for you lets marketers focus on more important things like creatives or strategy.
However, quite possibly the biggest trend on every marketer’s radar right now is artificial intelligence (A.I.). As search engines and ad networks start implementing machine learning to make campaigns smarter, the question is: are PPC marketers now ready for A.I.?
“We need to teach, monitor and guide the automations to deliver the best possible results, but instead of devoting more of our already limited human bandwidth to it, we can build lightweight automations using ads scripts, rule engines, alerts, etc. to restore some of the control we used to have before Google, Microsoft, and the other ad platforms took over with their artificial intelligence.”
— Frederick Vallaeys, Co-Founder, Optmyzr
While machines and A.I. can make quick work of menial tasks– like tweaking bids, or optimizing targeting protocols– there are still a lot of opportunities to refine the process of automation.
These next few months should be about refining the processes that involve advancements in machine learning and A.I. Specifically, figuring out which tasks are best left in the hands of humans and which ones are best suited for marketing automation.
“You might have heard of the Eisenhower Matrix. Using that principle, start with the one thankless task you do regularly. In other words, it takes a lot of time and it has a small impact on results. Take that task and find a machine to do it for you.”
— Ed Leake, Managing Director, Midas Media
2. A More Big-Picture Approach to Marketing
“All marketing works together – no channel is an island. Instead of looking at each channel as a separate standalone entity, advertisers in 2020 will focus on overall, bottom-line results. I know I will be.”
— Nikki Kuhlman, Senior Account Director, JumpFly
Pay-per-click is part of your digital marketing bag of tricks, and experts are quick to point out that as great as online advertising might be, PPC works so much better in synergy with other techniques that connect your brand with your target audience.
Hence, as you continue to get a better grasp of your target market’s media habits, online behavior, and trends in lifestyle, a more cross-channel or omni-channel approach to your campaigns is strongly recommended and definitely worth considering.
“Marketers need to care about all of the ways (even when untraceable) that a business grows in its totality, and then determine how to fit the PPC channel into that overall business growth, including strategy, creative, and reporting.”
— Kirk Williams, Founder, ZATO
3. Improved Audience Targeting
“If 2019 was all about audience targeting, 2020 will be the year that we speak to those audiences the right way at the right time.”
— Jeff Ferguson, CEO, Fang Marketing
Keep in mind that in the same way content marketing strategies are taking a more omni-channel approach this year, so too should online advertising.
With so many available social media networks, online shopping portals, streaming services, and all kinds of new apps, websites, and other services, your target audience’s attention online is fragmented now more than ever.
Hence, the need to identify all the key touchpoints your customer might take throughout their buyer’s journey in 2020, and being more mindful and creative when developing your omni-channel strategy.
“Instead of cramming a marketing message in the face of others, advertisers need to worry less about the direct sale, and more about how our offerings can help others. Gone are the days of overpaying for top positions with poor offerings,today we need to embrace helping our customers learn, and grow – even if we have to pay to do it.”
— Greg Finn, Digital Marketer & Partner, Cypress North.
4. The Need for Data Privacy
“PPC advertisers have seen successful results with more contextual and demographic targeting options such as In-Marketing Audiences offered by both Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising. We’re increasingly seeing new ways to leverage more understandings and insights – while still protecting people’s privacy- to connect brands and their customers differently.”
— Purna Virji, Senior Manager, Global Engagement, Microsoft Advertising
As more countries have been passing legislation that restrict or regulate tracking capabilities (such as the European Union’s GDPR– General Data Protection Regulation), knowledge of data privacy best practices is now an required for not just PPC marketers, but for all digital marketing practitioners as well.
PPC campaigns, therefore, must be 100% compliant, taking precautions not to exploit the people behind the data, particularly with retargeting, geo-targeting, and other similar techniques.
At the same time, efforts are being made to discover how to glean campaign information and find new ways to track and manage PPC efforts in a more privacy-conscious world.
“Update your first-party data processes and policies to meet the latest requirements for regions you target. That will position you for success to leverage customer match, remarketing and a growing range of strategies driven by first-party data.”
— Ilya Cherepakhin, VP, Media Operations, Acronym
5. The Shift Back To Better PPC Strategy
“PPC folks who can strategize will have the most success. In a changing landscape, strategy only ever becomes more and more valuable.”
— Amy Bishop, Owner & Digital Marketing Consultant, Cultivative
One of the biggest benefits of automating much of your tedious PPC tasks is that you now have more time to devote towards more big-picture action items. Among marketing thought leaders, the prevailing sentiment is that if you do have a bit more time on your hands, spend it on developing and refining your strategy.
“Whether it’s with software, scripts, dynamic search, automated bidding, ads written with AI/ML, or even various smart campaigns – the time saved on the minutiae of managing fundamental elements of campaigns can be better spent managing the strategic elements– such as audience, targets, and creatives,”
— Mark Irvine, Director of Strategic Partnerships, WordStream
PPC experts agree that marketers who can think strategically and properly execute their well-designed strategies will have a clear edge this 2020 and beyond.
“Leadership requires big-picture thinking. It involves understanding consumer wants and needs, knowing how to target beyond the “local maximum,” and making strategic decisions for clients. Marketing leaders who drive strategy and leverage automation to accomplish their growth goals will have even more success in 2020.”
— Amy Hebdon, Founder, Paid Search Magic
6. Alternative Platforms To Watch
“While Facebook still has the majority of users, paid ad managers should be closely following these user trends in 2020 to ensure their ads are reaching the right people (or for new opportunities) as they shift platforms,”
— Lisa Raehsler, Founder & SEM Strategy Consultant, Big Click Co.
True, both Google and Facebook are still seeing the most volume of ad placements. However, don’t forget about all the other social networks, shopping platforms, message boards, and other online communities your target audience frequents on a regular basis.
As mentioned, this is also very much in line with a more omni-channel approach to your advertising efforts.
“From Quora, to Reddit, to Pinterest and, especially Amazon. Budget management and keeping a fluid allocation based on performance across platforms will be paramount.”
— Jon Clark, Managing Partner, Moving Traffic Media
Interestingly enough, user activity in platforms such as Snapchat, Pinterest, and TikTok are growing. So for PPC marketers, understanding where their customers actually spend their time online is tremendously important.
“This does not mean you need to be on every ad platform (like Snapchat, Pinterest, and TikTok). It does mean you need to have a better understanding of where your customers spend their time online. If your audience is on one of the ad platforms above then you should at least test it out and see if you can make it work for your business.”
— Duane Brown, Founder & Head of Strategy, Take Some Risk
Realistically, you can’t be everywhere online. So the key is to pick your battles wisely. Choose the best alternative online platforms you know your market not only spends time on, but is also more likely to engage with you and your ads.
“Marketplaces (like Amazon and Walmart) have millions of visits a month to their site and searches being performed on those sites, too. Additionally, product detail pages that are being built out with robust content like reviews, attributes, video and product comparisons are getting picked up in search engine results and will be competing for eyeballs. Design a strategy or position that addresses that now, rather than halfway through 2020.”
— Elizabeth Marsten, Senior Director, Marketplace Strategic Services, Tinuiti
7. A Focus on Brand Affinity, Awareness, and Safety
More and more, I’m seeing marketers move beyond brand awareness and aim for brand affinity. Marketers are no longer satisfied with familiarizing potential customers with their brand. They also want to influence how potential customers feel about it and respond to it.”
— Pauline Jakober, CEO, Group Twenty Seven
Brand affinity is a measurement of the likelihood a consumer will continue to patronize a particular company, along with its products and services. This is a step above brand awareness, as you now work towards growing a segment of your customers that genuinely like your brand, and are likely to tell others about their experience with you.
More forward-thinking PPC marketers are now thinking more about how to get customers to keep coming back, leave positive reviews about their interactions with the brand, and continue to engage with the brand both online and in the real world.
8. Increased SERP Competition and Rising CPCs
“Everybody already searches just about as much as they’re going to. There isn’t going to be 25% YoY query growth anymore. The SERPs will continue to get more competitive and the CPCs will continue to rise until we reach a saturation point, a point that the next click is no longer profitable.”
— Aaron Levy, Group Director, SEM, Tinuiti
PPC marketers have also pointed out that year-on-year growth for clicks is going to be more challenging. After all, we do have a finite number of people searching online.
Even as we see more competition in the market, especially among hot topics and in-demand keywords, we will expect to hit a saturation point at some point soon.
All this means is this: with an increasingly competitive PPC market, expect searches to plateau, even as cost-per-click (CPC) rates continue to rise as well.
9. Improving CRO: Conversion Rate Optimization
“Smart advertisers will continue to develop other channels, such as display and social, but the main lift in their sales numbers will come from robust conversion rate optimization programs.”
— Jeff Allen, President, Hanapin Marketing
CRO is conversion rate optimization— and a big deal of the efforts in PPC go towards bringing up the rates at which leads become hot leads, and leads ultimately convert to sales.
PPC experts are also quick to point out that marketers should also go beyond just optimizing clicks. Which is why for this year, customer optimization is just as important.
“Conversion optimization is lauded, but customer optimization is underrated. You’re paying to acquire customers, so make sure you’re paying (investing) to keep them, too!”
— Ed Leake, Managing Director, Midas Media
10. 2020 is the Year of the Technical PPC Marketer
“We’ll see marketers becoming more technical, leading to things like wider adoption and reliance on CRM data in conjunction with their advertising efforts. Marketers will be tracking the lifecycle of leads and will be the ones predicting performance, and not Finance or IT.”
— AJ Wilcox, LinkedIn Ads Expert & Founder, B2Linked Marketers
Thanks to advances in search technology, marketing automation, and machine learning, PPC marketers who are quick to adapt to these practices will have a clear edge in the future.
Which means if you’re looking to further specialize and level up your PPC game this 2020 and beyond– picking up these increasingly important technical skills are the way to go.
“(Technical) skills are fundamental to the use of tools like Google Ads and Microsoft Advertising Scripts or feed-based features like Shopping, Ad Customizers, etc.”
— John Lee, Learning Strategist, Microsoft Advertising
A Final Word on PPC Trends For 2020
The experts have made their fearless forecasts for PPC this 2020. And based on their collective insight, we do have a few key takeaways.
First of all, automation will continue to be a big deal for online advertising. So if you’re doing paid ads, stay well ahead of the curve by learning it, embracing it, and leveraging it to make your job easier. You become a more effective PPC marketer this way, being able to now focus on strategy and other big-picture matters for your campaigns and ultimately, for your business.
Experts have also stressed the importance of putting your customers first. Going beyond just optimizing for clicks and taking a more cross-channel or omni-channel approach helps build brand affinity, as your customers will see you as a genuinely helpful brand, and help pave the way for future prospects and customers by sharing their positive experiences about you.
Even as your PPC campaigns should now also be more compliant with new data privacy standards and further optimized for conversions, expect cost-per-click costs to go up, as the marketplace will only continue to be more competitive in the coming months.