atom thought

27th January 2017
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Following on from our coverage of the biggest changes in PPC in 2016, here we look forward to what we predict will be the some of the biggest topics in paid search for the year ahead, including the AdWords redesign, smart bidding, and a greater role for audiences. Without further ado…

The AdWords redesign will be rolled out fully

Okay so this is cheating a little, as the AdWords ‘material design’ interface was announced back in March last year, but still, very few advertisers have been moved over to it. 2017 should be the year where advertisers are introduced fully to the new look, completely modernising the AdWords experience.

If you’re not aware, AdWords is undergoing a complete design overhaul, after more than 15 years with pretty much the same interface. Over the years, new features have been tacked on, and things have become a bit muddled and clunky. With Google upgrading their suite of products with material designed to standardise how things look and feel, the time has come for AdWords to receive the same treatment.
How the old AdWords interface looks

Crucially, this change is purely cosmetic, and won’t change any of the functionality of the platform. It should make things easier to find and more intuitive however, after a period of adaptation for many people who’ve been using the platform for a long time. Reports will be more useful, with insights easier to glean.
The new AdWords material interface

Bidding will become even more automated, powered by ‘smart bidding’

As the complexity of search grows, with more and more factors and bid multipliers to consider than ever before, machine learning and algorithms are also becoming ever more intelligent and complex. With this,  their ability to help us optimise and automate accounts grows. Last year, AdWords introduced ‘smart bidding’, which takes into account a wide range of factors – such as the time of day and location, as well as the exact query used, operating system and the ad creatives available, amongst many others – setting the optimal bid for every single auction. This then sets the bid to optimise against a target CPA or ROAS (return on ad spend).

As this technology continues to improve, I think we’ll see more and more automation in bidding. This shouldn’t be resisted, but should be tested against existing bidding methods. Whilst in the past paid search managers prided themselves on careful bid optimisation, the increasing complexity of search means that no human mind can calculate the optimal bids for each auction, for each query, for each individual, at a certain time and in a certain place, and so on. There are just too many factors, which algorithms can calculate in an instant.

A chalkboard representation of the complexity of an algorithm

Audience data will play an even greater role in paid search

Last year, we also started to see the use of audience data increase in importance, such as with the introduction of demographics for search, and wider use of Customer Match. Whilst keywords give a great indication of user intent, there are extra layers that audience data can provide to make targeting even more robust, and clicks more cost efficient. For example, knowing whether a particular clothing keyword was searched for by an old man or a young woman can help guide ad creative and landing page use.
A visual representation of the variety of people making up an audience

We predict that audience data will become even more important in 2017, with further demographics and interest data being available to overlay on keywords. With platforms such as Facebook allowing advertisers to target users based on a wide range of demographic and intent signals, and with Google having so much data at its disposal, we think they’ll make more of this available to advertisers. Google prides itself in privacy, but has relaxed over the years, such as when they let advertisers target existing customers using Customer Match. To keep growing ad revenues and prevent this being moved away into other channels such as paid social, Google knows it will need to provide advertisers with more features to keep paid search cost efficient.

Those are our key predictions for paid search in 2017 – do you agree?