Pay per click (PPC) advertising is being pronounced dead yet vibrant. Juggling these paradoxical realities can be challenging. Despite ad blockers making news late last year (dying), we’ve seen consistent year over year growth in U.S. paid search spend including 26% YoY increase in Q1 and a 12% YoY increase in Q3 2015 (vibrant).
With such conflicting visions of the future, let’s take stock of the industry and identify a few key technologies and changes that will impact everyone in digital marketing in 2016.
- Ad Blockers – In 2015, Apple allowed mobile ad blockers to run on Safari. Subsequently, there was a panic about the future of the internet. What’s all the fuss about?
- User Intent – Once upon a time, PPC revolved only around keywords. Today, that’s a recipe for failure. In 2016, success will be found through thinking about the user first.
- Extension Heaven – The bread and butter of the PPC industry is still text ads. But they no longer have to be boring. Maximize your ad with the ever growing number of ad extensions.
- Video and Voice – Will video ads begin to show up in Google results? Are there new strategies to target personal assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Cortana?
Ad Blockers and You
The internet is powered by advertising. There’s a never-ending struggle between users seeking a better browsing experience and advertisers selling their wares.
A renewed interest in ad blockers came this year when Apple started allowing iOS apps that blocked many forms of mobile ads. Major web browsers, including Firefox and Chrome, have long allowed ad-blocking plugins that prevent a user from seeing pop-up and display ads. While mass adoption of ad blockers could upend internet marketplaces and content production, global adoption has been relatively low with only 198 million worldwide and 18% in United States.
However, Google Trends data shows interest in blocking ads is at an all-time high:
(Source: Google Trends)
Why is this growth in popularity important? Here’s a breakdown on what’s at risk for a few key stakeholders.
Users: There are plenty of reasons ad blocking is tempting for users. It creates a cleaner web experience. It prevents advertisers from collecting information on users. Ad blockers can speed up mobile page load times and reduce data usage.
Content producers: Digital content producers depend on ad revenue to keep their virtual doors open. It will be a hard life for editorial websites in 2016 with few websites making enough profit to afford a full outfit of journalists, editorialists, or writers. Just ask Grantland. If ad blockers become widely adopted, websites that deliver news and entertainment may be hardest hit as they look for new forms of revenue, creating an even deeper panic in the news media industry.
Advertisers: Possibly the most obvious stakeholder. If advertisers can’t get ads (even tasteful, well-targeted ads) in front of users, jobs become endangered. Or they are forced to evolve. If traditional PPC ads became inviable, digital marketing would change radically.
Google: Google has the most at risk from mass adoption of ad blockers. The vast majority of Google’s annual revenue comes from advertising. In 2014, Google’s ad revenue topped $59 billion, nearly 90% of total revenues. Ad blockers may be good for users, but they’re bad for business.
Hope for Advertisers
The most popular plugin for desktop browsers, AdBlock Plus, has whitelisted some of the internet’s largest advertisers – Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. So despite doomsayers, we feel confident predicting that search advertising isn’t going anywhere in 2016.
PPC specialists may have to learn a new ecosystem or pay a fee to bypass ad blockers. In fact, Google’s ad revenue has increased every year of this century.
User Intent > Keywords
It is easy to assume that PPC campaigns revolve around keywords. However, you’ll only do well if your analysis stops at the surface.
The rise of mobile usage makes the connection with the user even more fleeting. For every Google search on a mobile device, a user sees fewer ads compared to desktop. If a user clicks on an ad, you’ve got only a few seconds to grab them. So here’s the rub: if you aren’t setting up custom landing pages that speak directly to the user’s query intent, you’re probably losing them.
Build your ad groups and campaigns around the different stages along their journey – awareness, comparison, and sales. By creating informational and comparison pages, you can provide interested users with the information they’re seeking.
To identify which users are in different levels of your sales funnel, pull a search query report in Google AdWords and segment by basic user intent categories. Once you start this process, a pattern should start to show itself and you can design targeted campaigns for each category: offers, landing pages, and ad copy.
The more you can put yourself in your user’s shoes, the better your ad campaign will run. The potential rise in ad blocker adoption means that remarketing, not just regular display campaigns, is now more important than ever.
The Land of Ad Extensions
Ad extensions have been around for a while. However, if you or the agency you’re using aren’t utilizing this essential toolbox, you’re losing money. Google allows 11 different ad extensions, which all increase the ways users can engage with your ad. Here are two examples of PPC ads that leverage several device specific ad extensions:
While not the most compelling ad titles and descriptions, these provide multiple entry points to the advertiser’s services.
Sitelinks provide a few different options for landing pages. The call extension on mobile allows users to convert without ever visiting the site. The 4.2-star rating is a compelling testimonial on both desktop and mobile ads variations.
What are all the different ad extensions? A quick breakdown:
|Apps||Mobile/Tablet only||Provides a link below your ad text that sends people to the app store or begins downloading your app.|
|Displays a call button that lets users call directly.|
|Uses location services to locate and display the nearest location to the user.|
|Reviews||Desktop||Import reviews from reputable third-party sources.|
|Give users different landing page options to help them find what they’re looking for.|
|Provides an additional line to highlight offers.|
|Highlight what users like about your site through survey data.|
|Informs the visitor of their previous interactions with the site.|
|Highlight seller ratings from trusted Google sources.|
|Dynamic sitelink extensions||Mobile/Tablet
|Automatically generated list of useful pages the user might want to visit.|
|Dynamic structured snippets||Tablet
|Automatically generated information from your site content appears in the ad.|
Why Use Sitelinks?
Sitelinks increase user engagement, which means everything. Giving users more detailed information with structured snippets or custom landing pages with sitelinks, means they’re better qualified leads when they get to your site.
By increasing engagement to your ads and providing more precise landing pages, a website can increase its Google Quality Score. Ultimately, sitelinks provide a better user experience.
The Future of PPC – Voice and Video
Video Ads Come to Google
Google is incorporating video ads in search engine result pages (SERPs). Google announced in September that TrueView campaigns would be controlled in the AdWords interface. This doesn’t necessarily mean that this shift is imminent, but all signs are pointing toward this new reality. For any company that has video assets to work with, video ads presented alongside traditional search results can seize this huge opportunity.
TrueView ads are some of the best bargains on the internet. Cost per click (CPC) pricing for YouTube ads that users don’t skip is comparatively lower than similar searches. Video ads can drastically increase brand awareness even with users who don’t finish watching!
How to Leverage Voice Search
PPC campaigns can use the data surrounding the rise of voice search to their advantage. We know that the average search length for voice search is between 5 and 6 words. By isolating your search query reports to mobile devices with more than three words, you can begin to see how mobile users are finding your website.
As you find trends in these voice searches, build mobile ad campaigns that address those very specific needs. Are users asking questions? Answer it in your headline. Are users using location phrases like “near me?” Respond, clearly stating your address.
Today, more than ever before, there are ways to diversify online advertising in a way that’s inventive and successful. Whether you’re planning for the future with voice search or bolstering your traditional ad campaign with a full suite of ad extensions, there’s no single path to success. Search engine marketing is flexible, allowing for creative energy to drive a campaign to success.